The mission of the Satilla Riverkeeper is to protect and care for the Satilla River watershed in a variety of ways, including education, trash cleanups, and water quality monitoring. The results of water quality tests can tell a lot about how safe the water is for recreational use. One way the Satilla Riverkeeper monitors water quality is through bacterial testing. Bacterial tests can yield results which then tell us whether or not colonies of E. coli are present in the water.
Why look specifically for E. coli? E. coli acts as an indicator species. If significant amounts of E. coli are found, there are most likely other bacteria such as disease-causing bacteria and viruses. However, this is not always the case. Just because there are colonies of E. coli found in the water does not mean that there are always the other harmful bacteria and viruses present. And vice versa, just because E. coli isn’t detected, it does not mean that the water ways are always safe. There is, however, a proven positive correlation with high levels of E. coli and illness and infection.
How does E. coli enter our waterways? E. coli may enter our water ways through a variety of pathways. Agricultural runoff is a large contributor of E. coli into streams and rivers. Old and worn septic systems are another major player in E. coli introduction as they are likely to leak into the environment and ultimately into waterways. The last major contributor is through legacy bacteria. This is bacteria that has managed to remain in an area long after the site where it was created has been abandoned. During rain events, this bacteria is churned up into the water column with soil and manages to find its way into the water ways The Satilla Riverkeeper has run a five-week project, sampling sites along the Satilla River once a week for the duration of the five weeks. One day of each week has been used to sample and the following day has been used to read the results. The water samples were incubated for 24 hours. Even weekly sampling results may not always be accurate. Rain events immediately following sampling may lead to temporarily spiked levels of E. coli that could not be accounted for. All results of bacteria testing from the Satilla Riverkeeper are posted to Swim Guide. However, it is best to make decisions with one’s own judgement. If there has been a recent storm, chances are there are going to be higher levels of E. coli. If it has been a dry week, E. coli levels are probably low. By pairing the data found on Swim Guide with personal judgement based on these factors, one can ensure a safer trip to the Satilla River.