We should never take our water quality for granted

It’s likely, since the (Lock Haven swim) beach has been closed for a period of time, that exposure (to bacteria) was limited and anyone who would have been sickened would already have experienced health effects. — Pa. Dept. of Health

he high bacteria count found in two samples of water from the West Branch of the Susquehanna River at Lock Haven’s public swimming beach in mid-June should remind us all how fragile this life-giving natural resource is.

We should never take for granted the quality of the water flowing in our rivers, creeks and streams … and underground.

Never.

We must all be stewards of our water, air and land.

In the case of the high bacteria count at the beach, be aware, as medical research shows, bacteria are common single-celled organisms and are a natural component of lakes, rivers, and streams.

Most of these bacteria are harmless to humans; however, certain bacteria, some of which normally inhabit the intestinal tract of warm-blooded animals, have the potential to cause sickness and disease in humans.

“When we think about bacteria polluting our rivers and lakes, it is usually fecal coliform bacteria. Fecal coliform is a group of bacteria found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals. When large amounts of fecal coliform bacteria are present in water, it means that the water is being contaminated by some source of manure or other animal waste. It also indicates the possibility that disease-causing organisms could be present,” wrote Heidi Mehl, a healthy streams initiative manager at The Nature Conservancy, in an essay entitled “What’s in the water?”

We’re not downplaying the significance of the bacteria counts found in the river at the city beach in June.

We’re simply trying to provide more information and explain, via trusted sources, that bacteria are naturally occurring in our waterways. It’s when the levels of that bacteria are higher-than-acceptable that we should exercise caution.

So is it safe to swim in the river here?

Here’s what the state Department of Health told us soon after the beach was closed: “It is likely, since the beach has been closed for a period of time, that exposure was limited and anyone who would have been sickened would already have experienced health effects.”

Earlier this week, the state Department of Environmental Protection began taking and testing water samples from five sites on the river.

They will test samples for the next month.

That’s little consolation to those who recreate on the river here regularly. The summer swimming and boating season here is short.

The Express has asked the DEP to report test findings as soon as possible.

Efforts — that is, public investment of time and money to maintain what we’ll call a “living quality” of our waterways must never cease.

Diligence is required through regular water quality testing … not just when problems arise.

Over the long-term, we’re encouraged and gratified by the collective effort and investment by the state of Pennsylvania and other groups, such as Trout Unlimited, to remove acid mine drainage from the West Branch. Millions of dollars have been invested to divert and treat acid mine drainage from river tributaries far upstream in the watershed, notably the Kettle Creek area and Clearfield, near the West Branch’s headwaters.

And while many complain of high sewage treatment rates – sewer bills – Pennsylvania has rightly led the way in requiring the upgrading of municipal and even private sanitary sewage treatment systems so waterways are protected.

“If a man fails to honor the rivers, he shall not gain the life from them.”

— Anonymous

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