KNAU and Arizona News
5:01 am
Thu July 17, 2014

Post-Wildfire Bacteria Levels in Oak Creek Heightened After Monsoon Flooding

Officials in Coconino County are advising the public not to drink from or swim in Oak Creek. As Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports, recent water contamination is yet another consequence of the Slide Fire.

A badly scorched area just above Oak Creek north of Slide Rock State Park.
A badly scorched area just above Oak Creek north of Slide Rock State Park.
Credit Ryan Heinsius


Recent water tests conducted at Slide Rock State Park showed higher than normal levels of E. coli — more than 10 times the acceptable amount— in the creek water. The bacteria are naturally occurring in soil and were displaced as a result of monsoon flooding following the Slide Fire. Randy Phillips is senior manager with Coconino County Environmental Services.

“At this point, knowing that there is a high risk of contamination, we’re recommending that people do not go into the creek and get wet, or swim or drink from the creek. It’s certainly more of a potential risk now than what it would be during a normal period,” Phillips says.

Forest land in Oak Creek Canyon is currently closed to the public. But, Phillips says the contamination isn’t limited to the canyon. All of Oak Creek could have dangerous bacteria levels even outside of the current closure area. And, the amount can fluctuate.

“If you see a high count today, tomorrow it might be very much changed, either higher or lower. So it really varies … Even if the water was crystal clear that doesn’t mean that it’s completely safe,” Phillips says.

Additionally, officials recommend that Oak Creek Canyon residents test for heightened bacteria levels in their water wells. Ingestion of E. coli can cause acute gastrointestinal illness, but is rarely fatal.

Phillips says, as flooding declines and the Slide Fire burn area recovers, bacteria levels in Oak Creek should also return to normal. But, he says that could take years.

For well-water testing information, see http://www.azdeq.gov/environ/water/dw/download/privatewells.pdf.