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E.coli levels in the Ottawa River are the holy grail of water sampling.
Ottawa’s beaches are tested daily for this insidious fecal content, which can be harmful to swimmers.
E.coli seeps into the river from sewage overflows, animal droppings and fertilizer runoff from farmer’s crops.
At high enough levels, E.coli can cause skin rashes, eye, ear or nose infections, and can be very dangerous for someone with an open wound.
But Ottawa Riverkeeper Meredith Brown said E.coli levels are just the tip of the iceberg.
“It’s not the E.coli that’s a risk, it’s all the things that are associated with waste, sewage or fecal matter,” she says.
Where there’s E.coli, there’s often other viruses, parasites and harmful bacteria that don’t get reported.
Researchers in Ottawa have even found traces of diseases in the river, including polio, which humans can potentially catch if they gulp a large mouthful of water.
E.coli closes down beaches in the city if the levels reach more than 100 colony-forming units per 100 ml of water.
In 2011, all of the city’s beaches were only open 19 out of 65 days, sometimes with E.coli levels higher than 1,000 cfu per 100 ml.