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-Town council has hired an environmental firm to investigate recently elevated
E. coli counts in the Petawawa River and at the Catwalk.
Cambium Environmental Inc. will conduct surface water monitoring along the river between Highway 17 and the Centennial Park Beach to determine if there exists an upstream source of contamination.
Chief Administrative Officer Mitch Stillman discussed the problem with the firm after the Renfrew County Health Unit registered an unusually high level of biological contaminants at the Catwalk in May.
That test showed a geo-mean count of 900. If the count reaches 1,000, the town would be obliged to close the beach until the level dropped. A secondary test days after showed levels had gone down to less than 100.
In a written report, Cambium laid out how it will probe the anomaly over the summer. Using a canoe, environmental technicians will mark five locations with a handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) unit. They will then return to those locations and collect three samples each. Samples will be taken on two and possibly four separate occasions between July and the end of September.
“If we get samples in July and August, that might tell the story,” Mr. Stillman told council.
All collected water surface samples will be stored in coolers with freezer packs and transported to an environmental analytical laboratory in Lakefield, Ontario. The samples will be analyzed for total Escherichia coli, commonly called
E. coli. Council has authorized up to $3,000 be spent on testing, which will include the costs of additional samples should they be required.
Councillor Tom Mohns suggested the firm collect samples when the water levels are low. Normally
E. coli rises when water levels are low and temperatures are high. Last summer, bacteria counts were much higher in the area when the river’s water levels dropped substantially.
“The water level is quite high and it leads us to believe there shouldn’t be problems with bacteria,” said Coun. Mohns.
The health unit conducts weekly tests of the Catwalk basin. Councillor Cy Steele asked if another spike in E. coli had been registered since the initial 900 geo-mean count earlier this spring. Mr. Stillman said none had been reported.
Coun. Steele said later he’s confident the extra set of testing will discover what caused the spike.
“I just wanted reassurances that weekly testing was being done,” he said.
Council decided to let the annual swimming program go ahead at that location. Last year, when high levels of bacteria were detected in the river, the program was suspended and moved to Petawawa Point.