E. coli found in water around broken pipe in Santa Cruz County

Published: Jul. 27, 2017 at 8:18 PM MST|Updated: Jul. 28, 2017 at 8:28 AM MST
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NOGALES, AZ (Tucson News Now) - There are no signs that the public water supply is contaminated right now, but health officials are asking residents to stay out of the water.

This warning applies to livestock as well. Do not use the water in any way if near the area of the breach, or are downstream from it like in Tubac, AZ.

Tucson News Now spoke with an environmental group that monitors the Santa Cruz River and they say they are not surprised this happened.

"We knew this would happen. It was just a matter of when," said Sherry Sass president of the Friends of the Santa Cruz River. For more than a year the group has feared something like the sewage from the international outfall interceptor spewing into the water, would happen.

"We need some government responsibility. Really talk about infrastructure. Here is infrastructure. Here is an example of infrastructure that's been neglected for way too long."

The group does monthly water quality tests at four spots along the Santa Cruz River, the most recent test took place Monday, July 24, the day before officials discovered a breach in the sewage pipe.

"On Tuesday we learned that there were up to 86000 plus E. coli per 100 mills which is a phenomenal amount. And signifies serious fecal contamination."

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality found high levels of E. coli during their tests as well.

All of this means a potential public health risk, but also a problem for the wildlife that call this area home.

"We have two native species of fish one of which is federally endangered and just came back. We just got water quality good enough to return them to the river. We have a great bird biodiversity." 
The ADEQ will have more detailed results of what other potentially dangerous things could be in the water, they expect results from those tests on Friday.

A full report, released by Santa Cruz County is below.  Read more about the broken pipe HERE.

Santa Cruz County has received the test results from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. Initial ADEQ samples found levels of E. coli bacteria that exceeded recommended levels, both below and above the partial breach. Further sampling is being conducted with results still pending.

Santa Cruz County Health Services and the Arizona Department of Health Services is advising the public to stay out of the Nogales Wash and the Santa Cruz River. Even in the absence of untreated sewage, stormflows are typically high in pollutants that can be harmful to human health such as bacteria and pathogens. Water near and downstream of the International Outfall Interceptor (IOI) partial breach is of particular concern and should be avoided.

Santa Cruz County Health Services is also recommending to those who own a private well within 100 ft. of the waterway to have their well tested for contamination.

Based on the initial water quality results and the Declaration of Emergency by the City of Nogales, Santa Cruz County has also signed a Declaration of Emergency and submitted to the Governor's Office. Subsequently, the Governor's Office has declared a State of Emergency in Santa Cruz County in response to the IOI partial breach.

The Department of Agriculture shares the concerns of livestock owners and farmers in the region. Until there is more information about the extent of the situation, it is recommend not using water from the Santa Cruz River to water food crops or gardens. Livestock should not be in the river or drinking from it.

Stakeholders have been updated to the current status and are analyzing potential courses of action to mitigate and stabilize the partial breach of the IOI. With the forecast of monsoon storms anticipated for the next several days we are taking full advantage of the current conditions to gather the needed information to determine the best course of action moving forward.

A hotline has been established for public and media inquiries between 7am and 7pm by calling 520-375-7784. Updates will also be posted on the County Facebook page, Santa Cruz County, Arizona and Twitter page @santacruzaz and the county website at www.santacruzcountyaz.gov.

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