CASPAR, 10/25/23 — Caspar Beach is now clear for swimmers, if anyone wishes to venture into thunderous surf that might kill a person long before bacteria tickled his tummy. Warning signs about dirty water will be removed after they went up October 19 following a positive test for a higher level of enterococcus bacteria than is considered safe.
This reporter saw a dead sea lion with its guts floating in Caspar Creek a few days before the positive test. It was the only positive test so far this year for three kinds of bacteria that Mendocino County Environmental Health tests for on five county beaches. The tests are done from April through October, meaning the tests that will take place on Halloween will be the last until April 2024.
Could the sea lion have caused the positive test?
Marlayna Bourbonnais Duley, who has been the county’s environmental health director for a week but employed by the department for nearly two decades, said that is possible but there is no way to know. She said enterococcus bacteria is found in the digestive system of mammals and birds. It can be caused by a flock of pelicans, which also have been thick this year, but more commonly it comes from human sewage or failing septic systems. There is a campground on Doyle Creek, which also flows into the ocean at Caspar Beach. And the hillsides above the beach and even offshore rock islands host gigantic houses. Duley said this was the first positive test in many years at Caspar. In more recent years Hare Creek and Pudding Creek beaches have had positive tests. There are also tests done at Little River and Big River beaches, neither of which, like Caspar, has had positives in recent years.
Beaches in other parts of the state have far more incidents of pollution. This article put the number at 75 percent of all beaches that experienced a closure at least once in 2022.
Tests are done for coliform, e-coli and enterococcus bacteria, each with a different threshold. The safety threshold for enterococcus is 100 parts per million, and the test came in at 134 ppm. Over the years, numbers at Pudding and Hare creeks have been as much as three times the safe level.
Is 134 a high number?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, enterococcus indicates fecal material in the water, and that in turn may mean that other bacteria, infectious virus and protozoa can be present.
“These pathogens can sicken swimmers and others who use rivers and streams for recreation or eat raw shellfish or fish. Other potential health effects can include diseases of the skin, eyes, ears and respiratory tract. Eating fish or shellfish harvested from waters with fecal contamination can also result in human illness,” the EPA website states.
Last year Pudding Creek Beach had two positive tests. Duley told The Mendocino Voice at that time that a third test would have resulted in a follow-up investigation, but that didn’t occur.
Duley said positive tests are more likely to happen at this time of year, when the ocean gets thunderous and churns up whatever is on the bottom, and before the big rains come.
She said it’s impossible to know if the bacteria originated from Doyle Creek or Caspar Creek or even from a nearby property with a leaking septic tank. Tests are taken in the ocean offshore, by technicians using a long pole. In the past, at Hare Creek, positive tests have been attributed to homeless encampments, although there is no indication of the source in any of the tests. The county simply issues a warning whenever the safety threshold is exceeded.
Other links provided by Duley:
Heal the Bay State Beach Report Card: https://www.beachreportcard.org/39.271967930855396/-123.80633463220914/13
Search engine for beach samples: https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/water_issues/programs/beaches/search_beach_mon.html
Is it safe to swim in our waters?: https://mywaterquality.ca.gov/safe_to_swim/