The swim beach at Chatfield State Park was closed Thursday due to high levels of E. coli bacteria. The beach will re-open once tests indicate safer levels. This bacterium is commonly found in the lower intestine and a major component of fecal matter. Yep, that’s right…poo. This stuff is almost always in the water at lower elevations but usually in small amounts that are not considered harmful. As temperatures rise, so does the threat of getting seriously ill from ingesting even small amounts of tainted water.
Water in public reservoirs are frequently tested (usually once a week) and aquatic personnel may or may not tell you what those levels are unless they reach levels deemed “too high” by Colorado health agencies. Irrigation, treatment plant releases and wildlife are the largest introducers. Domestic animals, humans and even heavy rains also contribute depending on the frequency of visitors or turbulent weather.
Cases of E. coli poisoning will often rise with summer recreation and medical personnel are armed with the proper questions: “What have you eaten recently? Have you been in the water?” There is no effective way of treating E coli symptoms other than to prevent dehydration. Most medical officials avoid antibiotic treatments as that can lead to an even worse condition called hemolytic uremic syndrome.
Expect periodic testing and beach closures throughout the summer at Cherry Creek, Aurora and even Chatfield Reservoir. So many other lakes, ponds, streams and lower elevation waterways will be wrought with high levels of potentially harmful bacteria.
Fish and most wildlife are fairly resistant to E coli and can tolerate higher levels but can still be susceptible to illness as well as death if levels reach too high. I am still researching this by the way and looking for studies that track bacteria levels in fish. It may be alarming to know that some farmed fish are fed a mixture of protein and chicken poo that may contain E. coli as well.
Below is a link to the official announcement from the Denver Post via the Colorado Health folks.