Through Memorial Day weekend in Northern California, the American River was packed with people in the Sacramento area looking to catch some sunshine following California’s easement of the Covid-19 shelter-in-place mandate. And while the Coronavirus was still on most people’s mind (despite the clear lack of masks), there was another risk posed to people on the River. One they may not know about.
Just days before the throngs of people hit the water on the American River for the 3-day weekend, state scientists were collecting samples near Tiscornia Beach to determine E. Coli levels in the water. The water reached the highest levels of E. Coli that can be tested and it added another extremely high test for the water in recent years.
Despite these recent findings, or the findings over recent years showing disgustingly high E. Coli levels in the American River in Sacramento, officials refuse to close the beaches in the area. Instead, they simply choose to place signs in the areas test for high levels of bacteria and post the testing results on their website. If you’ve seen the crowds on the river lately, those attempts to inform the public aren’t having much of an impact.
While city officials refuse to point their finger to a singular problem leading to the high levels in the water, most people will direct their attention to the growing homeless encampments on the river.
The lack of public bathrooms along the water means they have to “go” wherever they can find privacy, which typically means next to or into the water. For three years in a row, the water downstream has been analyzed and officials found extremely high levels of E. Coli, a sign of fecal matter, in areas popular for recreation, like swimming and fishing.
At Tiscornia Beach, nine of fifteen water tests during the from June through September 2019 showed E. Coli levels exceeding national and state standards. At nearby Discovery Park, nine of the twelve water tests exceeded the standards. Now, an analyzation of waterways show the E. Coli levels remain high at North 10th Street and Tiscornia Beach in downtown Sacramento:
In an attempt to mitigate the problem (along with Covid-19), officials placed portable toilets and handwashing stations in areas with a high density of homeless encampments. But the bacteria numbers have yet to decline and the city is still hesitant to place blame.
They are now conducting a 3-year study that will test the DNA of the E. Coli, which will cost the taxpayers over $600,000. They maintain that the bacteria could have come from dogs or Canadian geese, but the reasonable assumption of most residents points to the homeless populations directly upstream.
The high levels of E. Coli in the waters of the Lower American River mean that approximately three of every 100 swimmers would become ill after contact with the water. Symptoms would include diarrhea, stomach pains and a fever.
While we’ve now seen three-consecutive years of high-levels of E. Coli in Sacramento, there’s currently no solution in sight. We recommend to stay out of the water.