Fecal bacteria levels prompt advisory for Kenai Beach

Published: Jun. 10, 2019 at 3:24 PM AKDT
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Fecal bacteria from birds has prompted the Department of Environmental Conservation to issue an advisory for marine waters at the Kenai North Beach.

Water samples collected on June 4 had elevated levels of enterococci bacteria and fecal coliform.

While the bacteria can come from any warm-blooded mammal including humans, DNA tests indicate a bird colony is the primary source of contamination.

"The results we had were slightly over the limit," said Nancy Sonafrank with the Department of Environmental Conservation. "It's a fairly modest level but we have tested the Kenai River--these beaches right at the mouth of the Kenai--for a number of years and we've seen a predictable number of exceedances."

Contact with contaminated water may cause stomach aches, diarrhea, or eye, skin, and ear infections.

"If it were human sewage then it would be 'don't go near the water.' Not now, but at levels we've seen before. But it's not largely human-caused. It's the birds, so it's a lower risk," Sonfrank said.

However, at current levels, state environmental leaders say the area can still be enjoyed for recreation if you take a few precautions.

Alaska DEC says fish taken from the Kenai should be cleaned with fresh, clean water and cooked to at least 145 degrees to kill any bacteria.

Additionally, people who wade in the water should shower afterwards.

"This isn't exactly a swimming beach, it's more like a fishing beach," Sonafrank said. "We're mainly just advising people that this beach has higher bacteria levels than others do, and therefore precautions you should take in any wild place, cooking and making sure your water's safe and things like that, should be observed especially here. So just take the precautions and go have some fun."

The advisory will be lifted once water sample results consistently meet water quality standards.

DEC will continue testing the water in the area weekly through September.

Copyright 2019 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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