Petersburg Pilot -

Elevated levels of bacteria detected at Sandy Beach

 


The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has actively been collecting water samples from Sandy Beach and testing them for quality since mid-July, after spillage of waste occurred months earlier. Late last week, a DEC press release was issued alerting recreational beach users to be aware of elevated levels of fecal coliform bacteria in marine water near the beach.

The testing process included collecting weekly samples of marine water, and sending them to a Juneau lab. Since time can decrease bacterial counts in a matter of six to eight hours, samples taken from Sandy Beach are immediately flown to the lab.

There have been a dozen samples collected since testing began. Water samples taken on Sept. 11 and 16 exceeded suitable levels and DEC was required by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to inform the public. Additional testing was conducted on Sept. 18, and results the next day revealed that bacteria levels had dropped below Alaska’s fecal coliform standard for recreation.

“The level is actually below standards now,” DEC environmental program specialist Gretchen Pikul says. “We are not positive on the exact source, but it could be a combination of sources.”

Pikul says the investigation into any possible effects from the waste spillage and subsequent cleanup is ongoing. But she does not think it is the major culprit, due to the low levels of bacteria produced by initial testing after the incident. Pikul says possible sources could have been change in tides, water or air temperature, or people failing to clean up after their pets.

“We are told from the folks that live out there, that it is a popular dog walking area,” Pikul says. “So if folks don’t pick up their dog feces, with all the precipitation that we’ve had you would definitely see that in the water.”

Pikul considers this just “a blip” and additional testing will take place again next spring and summer, in order to have two years of data to compare and see if any trends emerge, she says. The DEC is hoping to get an EPA grant to fund the process.

 

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