Tropical Storm Cindy created poor water quality conditions across Alabama. The public should be extremely cautious around any river or creek and avoid recreation until conditions normalize. Currently, high levels of bacteria, debris and mud are washing down our creeks and rivers and into our lakes, making it unsafe for water-based recreation. Even boating can be dangerous due to floating or submerged debris and dangerous hydraulics caused by high water flow. It takes several days for bacteria and viruses that can cause recreational water illness to die, and that process depends greatly on the UV rays of sunlight, of which we are expected to have little of until Sunday. Even if the lake looks calm, invisible bacteria and viruses washed down by the flood can be dangerous.
Our Swim Guide sampling interns, Alana and Serra, were conducting their normal recreational water quality sampling on Thursday morning during the rain. A little after noon, we called off their efforts and they headed for shelter due to severe weather. For the samples they did collect in the morning, very poor water quality was observed. A high level of E. coli bacteria was detected in Big Wills, Choccolocco, Coldwater and Hatchet Creeks (that’s every creek we test if you’re keeping score at home). All creeks are likely to contain high levels of pollution right now and are also unsafe for inexperienced boaters due to high flow conditions. We urge you to stay off the creeks this weekend in areas that were impacted by rain. A network of stream gages, which measure the flow and height of Alabama’s creeks and rivers, can be viewed here.
A high level of E. coli bacteria was also detected in the Coosa River in Wetumpka, which rose from around 15′ to 30′ on Thursday. It is not safe to recreate in the Coosa River in Wetumpka until the flood recedes. The fishing pier below Jordan Dam has been closed by the Alabama Power Company until further notice.
Our lakes will likewise be full of debris, including submerged debris, which can cause damage to boats and are especially dangerous to skiers and tubers. A higher than usual level of E. coli bacteria was detected on the Coosa River in the Rainbow City area. Oxygen levels on our lakes are very low right now. Fish kills are possible. Document any fish kills with photographs and immediately report to Coosa Riverkeeper (205-981-6565), ADCNR (1-800-272-4263), and Alabama Power Shoreline Management (205-257-2599). Oxygen levels should begin to improve Sunday as sunlight returns, spurring oxygen-producing photosynthesis.
With heavy rainfall, water quality changes rapidly. It is unwise to assume because a site we tested Thursday morning was clean then, that it will continue to be clean on Saturday. This is not the case. Conditions will continue to worsen as additional rain falls on Friday and Saturday and our flooded creeks empty into our lakes. As a result, we have changed the status of all sites to a yellow caution status regardless of the results on Thursday, and the sites which indicated a high level of E. coli bacteria are currently displayed as red.
On the neighboring Cahaba River, Cahaba Riverkeeper issued 14 water quality alerts for their 16 sites.
In good news, if the forecast for next week holds, we should have improved river conditions for the July 4th holiday! Please be alert and cautious around our creeks and lakes this weekend. Subscribe for water quality alerts by texting “SWIMGUIDE” to 844-83.