Bacteria levels in late June at the Chisana Creek outfall near Tolovana State Park that measured more than three times what is considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are now back to safe levels.
Routine sampling conducted through the Oregon Beach Monitoring Program found readings at two freshwater outfalls to exceed the state’s recreational water standard of 130 mpn, or most probable number, a testing method used to estimate the number of colony forming units of bacteria in water samples.
The Chisana Creek outfall registered at 465 mpn. The Ecola Court outfall pipe hit 134 mpn.
The cause for the spike is unknown. The city is in contact with the state Department of Environmental Quality and is conducting additional in-house tests to identify the problem, City Manager Bruce St. Denis said.
“This has been an ongoing situation that has resulted in extensive testing (including DNA testing) and research in the past,” St. Denis wrote in an email. “Numerous projects have been undertaken to address isolated contributing sources but the overall situation keeps reoccurring. This is common for municipal beach outfalls.”
In response, the city plans to reinstate routine testing of all outfalls, including testing locations further upstream of the outfalls than have been done in the past to try to drill down on where contamination is being picked up, St. Denis said. The city will also be scheduling tests the day before predicted rainfall and day after since spikes seem to occur near large rain events. DEQ has agreed to review the data after it has been collected, St. Denis said.
Cannon Beach has a history of high bacteria test results, especially after rain washes waterways out and during the height of tourism season when public infrastructure is heavily used. In July 2015, a sewage leak led to a spike in bacteria readings in the Ecola Creek watershed.
In general, sources of contamination to surface waters include wastewater treatment plants, septic systems, domestic and wild animal manure, and storm runoff, according to the EPA. Ingesting bacteria contaminated water can result in illness, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
While the federal BEACH Act allows the monitoring program to issue health advisories for readings that exceed the limit in marine waters, there is no equivalent requirement for freshwater sources.
Mike Manzulli, of the Ecola Creek Watershed Council, said the process is “flawed” and that the state should remedy the way findings are noticed.
“The streams from these outfalls are where the children on the beach play and where the dogs drink. Children have most likely gotten sick from these waters in the past and will continue to until the problem is remedied,” Manzulli wrote in an email. “Tourists don’t know their children and pets are playing in contaminated water. Until the source of contamination is fixed, families visiting our beach deserve a proper warning to avoid this water.”
St. Denis said the city is working with the Department of Environmental Quality for guidance on proper signage to advise beach goers.
“This is a very complicated issue and is a top priority for staff at this time,” St. Denis said.