E. Coli contamination a hidden danger in the Virgin River

E. Coli contamination is 'off the chart' in Zion National park's Narrows

Published: Saturday, Oct. 6 2012 8:31 p.m. MDT

To help eliminate one source of the problem, a pit toilet was installed in the summer of 2011 at the trailhead of the Narrows, Dickey said, on BLM land where people start their trek into the park.

"There was fecal matter and toilet paper behind every shrub, bush and tree at the spot," she said, with people relieving themselves prior to reaching the river. "We are happy to say the toilet has been well used."

Tyce Palmer, resource coordinator for the southwest area of the Utah Association of Conservation Districts, has been working with local land owners and state and federal agencies to help mitigate the contamination problem.

"It's a complex watershed, in a pretty steep and narrow remote area," he said. "There might be some cows in there in places where we can do better management on."

Palmer said he was in the area recently and found a cabin with an outhouse that had been erected right over an irrigation ditch, its contents eventually flowing to the river.

"There's definitely a lot of issues up there, not just the old cow," he said.

Dickey said the E. coli levels have been so high they exceed what the state can test for, which earned the river a spot on its watch list for human interaction.

The good news, both Dickey and Sharrow said, is that after Deep Creek meets up with the Virgin River, the contamination is diluted, but some E. coli persists at the park's Temple of the Sinawava.

Both water watchers know the fix won't be an easy one because of the diverse group of interests involved. Sharrow said he's not in the business of telling cattle ranchers how to manage their animals, but he wants to fix the problem.

"It is a remote area. It is not an ideal place to change irrigation practices. You don't have electricity," he said. "You don't have someone living there being able to run and operate the system all the time. It is going to take some time and some creativity to come up with a solution."

Email: amyjoi@desnews.com Twitter: amyjoi16

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