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Ashland Creek gets a clean bill of health

and MYLES MURPHY

For the first time in several years, it looks like Ashland Creek in Lithia Park will escape the high levels of bacteria that lead to health warnings for park visitors.

Most years we don't have a problem, but it really depends on the water temperature and the flows, Ashland Parks and Recreation Department Superintendent Steve Gies said. We've had pretty decent flows this year.

Waders were warned to stay out of the creek last year because of fecal coliform bacteria contamination, which can cause illness. Despite warning signs up and down the creek and at the public wading area near the Lithia Park playground, people continued to dip their toes in the water.

We've had that problem in the past, Gies said. It's nice we don't have to put the signs up this year.

A good snowpack from the previous winter has left area creeks with substantially higher summer flows than in past drought years.

However, Butler and Neil creeks in Ashland, along with numerous other streams in Jackson County ' including Bear Creek, have tested positive for high levels of bacteria.

Recent tests show the creeks have E. coli levels that exceed county and state water quality standards, according to Rogue Valley Council of Governments staff.

The type of E. coli tested is an indicator species different from the type that can be deadly to humans, staff said.

The creeks frequently test positive during warm months, when low water levels and higher temperatures spur bacterial growth. The bacteria levels are likely to decline when fall and winter rains swell area creeks.

We want anybody playing in the creeks to use common sense, said Greg Stabach, RVCOG hydrologist. Don't ingest the water or allow contact with open wounds.

Young children should be supervised closely when playing in the water.

Other creeks that tested positive: Bear Creek from Talent through Central Point; Wagner Creek in Talent; Payne and Coleman creeks in Phoenix; Lazy, Larson and Lone Pine creeks in Medford; and Griffin and Jackson Creeks in Central Point. Testing does not cover all creeks in Jackson County.

While an alert has been issued for the creeks that tested positive, staff noted that contact with any body of water ' including rivers, lakes and even swimming pools ' carries some level of risk.

Possible causes of high bacteria levels include natural contamination from wildlife, leaking septic systems, livestock and pet waste, illegal dumping from portable toilets or recreational vehicles, or any other activity that causes discharge of fecal material into creeks or storm drains, RVCOG staff said.

Failing septic systems should be reported to Jackson County Roads, Parks and Planning Services at 774-6900. Other sources of pollution should be reported to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality at 776-6010.

Health-related questions should be directed to Gary Stevens with Jackson County Health and Human Services at 774-8206.

For more information, call Stabach or Allison Dew at RVCOG, 664-6676, extensions 219 or 212.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 482-3456. Myles Murphy is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 482-3456.