E. coli levels rise in some parts of Conn. river

NORTHAMPTON — A deluge of rain last Wednesday has elevated levels of E. coli bacteria at select spots on the Connecticut River, prompting health officials to warn people not to swim or boat there.

High levels of E. coli were found throughout the region, including at a boat ramp in Sunderland and Barton Cove in Greenfield, according to the Connecticut River Watershed Council. The presence of E. coli is a reliable indicator of the presence of other harmful bacteria. High E. coli levels increase the likelihood of sickness, including stomach pains, rashes, breathing problems, diarrhea and other intestinal issues.

Water samples taken Thursday in Northampton at a Connecticut River boat dock, in the Elwell Recreation Area and near the Coolidge Bridge came back Friday with “really high” levels of E. coli bacteria, said Merridith O’Leary, director of public health.

As a result of the findings, health officials have posted advisories warning people the water was not clean for boating or swimming, though the water may have cleared up already. Bacteria levels typically drop two days after a rain storm as long as it is dry, but the advisories will stay up until volunteers do another round of testing this week, O’Leary said.

Though the samples are taken at specific spots along the rivers, O’Leary said that doesn’t mean bacteria isn’t located in other water areas.

“When there are really heavy rains like that [last Wednesday], typically the entire body of water has elevated counts of E. coli,” she said.

Elevated levels of bacteria are common during rain storms that induce runoff from roads, farms and other places. Runoff can carry sources of bacteria, said Andrea Donlon, a Massachusetts river steward for the Connecticut River Watershed Council.

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