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Theories abound as to why the bacteria count in a small stretch of Oak Creek running through its namesake canyon gets so high that people have to be kept out of the water for their health.

By Mike Cosentino

Larson Newspapers

Theories abound as to why the bacteria count in a small stretch of Oak Creek running through its namesake canyon gets so high that people have to be kept out of the water for their health.

However, it is has been happening since the 1970s.

It has happened 13 times this season and that fact has been covered by regional media, both print and broadcast.

"This is nothing unusual. This is normal. This is standard operating procedure," said Steve Pace, who has been park manager since 1986. "We have been doing this since I have been here."

Pace is referring to closing the park’s swimming area in the creek.

According to Oak Creek Canyon residents, U.S. Forest Service officials were closing or recommending caution to visitors at the "slide" swimming area for at least a dozen years before that.

Busy holiday weekends often guarantee eventual closure of the swimming area.

Pace said park personnel do their own testing at a state-licensed lab located at the park.

"We test at five different locations everyday. Measurements of more than 230 colony-forming units [of bacteria] result in keeping swimmers out of the water," Pace said.

"We have to put rangers down there. People will ignore the signs," he said.

"Studies did not show a high correlation between rain and high bacteria counts," Pace said.

"The last three days, there has been no one in the water and no rain and we have had high readings. That blows a couple of theories out of the water right there," he said.

"They have done a lot of studies. They say it’s due mostly to animal activity — raccoons, elk, deer," he said.

Another factor is that the sediment in the creek will be stirred up on the bottom and there is bacteria in that sediment, Pace said.

The incubation period for illness due to high bacteria counts is six to 20 days. People claiming to be sick sooner than that did not get sick from the creek in his park, Pace said.

There has been only one legitimate case of illness due to the water in more than 20 years, he said.

 

 

Mike Cosentino can be reached at 282-7795, Ext. 128, or e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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