Oak Creek water quality at Red Rock Crossing

Red Rock Crossing plays host to bathers and baptisms. With few natural water sources in Northern Arizona locals and tourists alike head to Slide Rock, Grasshopper Point and Red Rock Crossing to cool off during the hot summer.

As such, water quality is a concern. Is Oak Creek at Red Rock Crossing safe to swim in? What governmental agencies, if any, are responsible for testing and monitoring water quality of Oak Creek? And, if so, how does a citizen find out about water quality?

As one of the few natural rivers in Arizona Oak Creek is subject to contaminants from many sources including fertilizer and pesticides from agricultural run-off, trash, human and pet waste. Contaminants typically found in Oak Creek include E-coli and nitrates (common contaminant from fertilizer run-off).

Oak Creek river is located in Coconino National Forest and managed by the United States Department of Agriculture. Their web site at http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/coconino/recreation/?cid=stelpdb5375802 offers to provide the latest E-Coli Water Quality Results for Oak Creek by calling the Red Rock District Front desk at 928-203-7500.

However, when calling the number for this article no menu extension was available for this information. After reaching a staff member I was told they do not have E-coli information on Oak Creek. I was instructed to call Slide Rock Station at 928-282-3034.

A Slide Rock staff person stated there was no cause of concern when swimming at Slide Rock. When asked for the latest E-coli level I was informed it was less than 250 cfu/100 ml.

They claim they test for E-coli at Slide Rock daily. The Forest Service does not test for water quality at Red Rock Crossing.

A word of caution: The Forest Service web site states that levels of bacteria may be above state health standards and warns you in full caps ‘CAUTION: SWIM AT YOUR OWN RISK’.

Since Coconino Forest Service does not test for E-coli at Red Rock Crossing I did. I obtained water samples from three different spots at this site.

While taking the samples I carefully followed the protocol for surface water sampling and then delivered the samples to Norwest Analytical Labs in Flagstaff for testing.

According to University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Science Cooperative Extension E-coli levels in excess of 235 cfu/100 ml (colony forming units) make swimming unsafe and if in excess of 575 cfu/100 ml it’s not safe for body contact.

Results from the test samples ranged from 13.5 to 32.3 cfu/100 ml or well below the danger level of 235 (please note, testing for nitrates was not done for this article although elevated nitrate levels are a common pollutant).

To help protect our beautiful Oak Creek the following are things we all can do:

• One, keep pets out of the water.

• Two, pick up pet waste.

• Three, leave no trace, pick up trash.

• Four, if you live along the creek maintain septic systems and reduce or eliminate use of pesticides and fertilizers.

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