Ask Lyn: What Did TWF Discover on Snapshot Day?

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Dear Lyn,

I’ve been wondering, did you discover any interesting results from this year’s Snapshot Water Monitoring Day?

Thanks,
Curious Lake Lover

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Dear Curious Lake Lover,

E. Coli tests conducted during SWMD, 2020

Why yes, I’m so glad you asked! We found very high levels on E.coli in one small section of Cherry Creek near Limitless Park. We suspect the source may have been pet poo. It’s important to test for E. coli bacteria because it indicates the presence of waste, specifically poop, from warm blooded animals. Examples include wild animals, livestock, pets, and people (often from sewer overflows or septic disfunction). Waters with high E. coli levels could contain pathogens and be harmful to our health. That’s why the state’s standard for swimming, for example, is less than 235 colonies per 100 mL of water.

This Snapshot Day, we conducted E. coli tests from 80 stream sites, out of which only 12 showed E. coli levels that exceeded the state standard. However, the testing site at Cherry Creek was extremely high, with a final result of “Too Numerous to Count” (TNTC in scientific jargon)!

E. coli test plate for site T08

Here’s a closer look at some of our E.coli test plates. Notice the blue dots? Those indicate colonies of E. coli bacteria. 1 blue dot equals 100 colonies in every 100mL of water. If there are more than 2 blue dots on the circular pink plate, that’s too many.

For example, you can see that the test plate for site T08 (left) shows 18 blue dots. That means 1,800 colonies of E. coli in every 100mL of water–well above state standards for safe swimming. Now take a look at the test plate for WL04A, the site at Cherry Creek (below right), pictured side-by-side with site T0. T0 shows no blue dots, or zero E. coli colonies, whereas WL04A shows a mass of blue dots, which means E. coli levels “too numerous to count.” That’s a big problem!

When the E. coli tests were complete and we saw the results from Cherry Creek, TWF immediately contacted the citizen scientists who sampled this location to ask if they had noticed anything unusual at the site. In fact, they had recorded an observation on their data sheet: lots and lots of dog poop in the grassy area next to the creek, which is also next to a popular greenway trail. There were so many piles of poop that they found it difficult to walk a few hundred feet in their waders while avoiding these tiny land mines.

E. coli test plates for sites WL04A (left) and T0 (right)

You might be wondering what did TWF did with this information. Our next step was to test this problem site (WL04A) again and to share our findings with the County Health Department, who also took samples. The results of both follow-up tests showed E. coli numbers had greatly reduced and were no longer at a level to be a health concern. That’s good news! It means the problem was resolved for the short-term, but what about long-term?

Long-term, TWF is working to unite partners to raise awareness about this problem throughout the watershed, especially at this location. As I’ve mentioned, Cherry Creek is just upstream of Winona Lake’s Limitless Park. This beautiful area is a local favorite, heavily utilized for its greenway trail, creek-stomping, swimming in the public beach, and even educational opportunities for learners of all ages.

The good news is that the solution to this problem is simple: PICK UP PET POO! You’ll find free, conveniently-located pet waste baggies and receptacles in and along many greenways and parks throughout our area, including Cherry Creek and Limitless Park. To learn more about the impacts of pet waste, check out Clear Choices Clean Water Indiana and pledge to be part of the solution.

 

Thanks for taking action for healthy lakes!

P.S. Curious what else we uncovered during Snapshot Water Monitoring Day? View our full results and maps HERE!

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