Recreational waters might contain fecal matter after recent storms

Aug 4, 2021, 6:17 PM
fecal matter...
This May, 2017 file photo shows the southern end of Flaming Gorge Reservoir in northeastern Utah. (Dave Cawley, KSL Newsradio)
(Dave Cawley, KSL Newsradio)

SALT LAKE CITY — There might be fecal matter and other potentially harmful elements in recreational bodies of water around Utah, according to water experts. Heavy rain and flooding often carry anything on the ground into nearby waters, including poop from humans and animals. 

It is something we might not think of before jumping into our favorite river, lake, or reservoir. Monsoonal rains and flash flooding, like those we have seen across the state over the last few weeks, can wash things we do not particularly want into those bodies of water.

“The places we love to recreate in, those aren’t being treated for chemicals, bacteria, fecal waste, any of the materials that might be getting in there,” said Dr. Kate Fickas, Utah Division of Water Quality, recreational water quality health program coordinator. 

Fecal matter winding up in recreational waterways happens all the time, not only after big storms. While the DWQ monitors some areas for E. coli and other harmful bacteria, they cannot keep an eye on all of the areas recently impacted by flooding. 

Should I go in the water? 

Families should definitely wait to swim in lakes, reservoirs, and rivers for up to 72 hours after a big storm, said Dr. Fickas. However, there are some simple precautions to take once that period has passed. 

“Always, you should avoid swallowing water in surface waters while swimming. That’s a good rule of thumb. The water isn’t treated, so you don’t necessarily know what’s in the water,” advises Dr. Fickas. 

She also recommends using the bathroom before swimming and washing your hands after you get out of the water. 

If you do go swimming and start experiencing symptoms, Dr. Fickas urges you to contact your local health department and poison control. This enables officials to track the source of the illness and inform others who might be recreating in those waters. 

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Recreational waters might contain fecal matter after recent storms