Public Health and City of McMinnville officials declared Cozine Creek a safety hazard last week and put up signs discouraging people from playing in the water. Strains of E. coli from an undiscovered source were found in every branch of the creek, prompting the new warnings.
Mike McNickle, program manager of the Public Health Department, said these strains of E.coli are not the same ones associated with the fast-food chain, Jack- in-the-Box, incident several years ago.
“The key is to determine where the source is coming from,” McNickle said, “and that is exactly what the city of McMinnville is now trying to do.”
The contamination was discovered in monthly water testings done at the creek. The testing is financed by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board Grant that the Yamhill Basin Council received. It is a three-year grant that was established this past summer.
The officials found E. coli in the creek several years ago but did not proceed any further investigation because it was in a single, isolated area, Watershed Coordinator Jean Reiher said.
Reiher also said the type of strains found are most likely generated from animal droppings, which can be washed away with the rain, or from a sewage leak, which would be harder to correct. Because of recent test results, they proceeded to warn the community that the E. coli was heavily saturating the area.
“It is also possible that the E. coli are breeding there, and it’s not an external source,” Reiher said. “Especially this time of year, because there is no water flow.”
Linfield’s Environmental Studies program has used the area for capstone classes before, Professor of Environmental Studies Tom Love said. However, the area is no longer predominantly used for academic purposes.
“Eventually, we could really do some serious conservation restoration,” Love said. “However, [the E. coli] really doesn’t affect what little to no use there is now.”
People are highly discouraged from playing in the water at the creek or letting their animals walk in it. Small children are especially susceptible to side effects from the E.coli because they are more likely to play in the water and then use their hands to eat something afterward, Reiher said.
Likely symptoms after consuming something with E. coli are intestinal upset, such as diarrhea and vomiting, as well as fever. The public health department urges anyone who has been in the creek and has these symptoms to call its office at 503-434-7525.