State health officials say they are satisfied with Bureau of Land Management efforts to clean up a dangerous human-waste problem on the banks of the Colorado River near Moab.
"The problem as I have seen it has been solved," said Jim Adamson, district sanitarian for the Southeastern Utah District Health Department. "But we have to recognize there must be facilities for human waste or the same situation will recur next year."In particular, health and BLM officials have been trying to deal with the problem of human waste in the Goose Island area - a popular, though unofficial, camping spot about two miles up-river from Moab.
Two weeks ago, BLM crews used a roller-chopper - a drum with blades attached - to mow down the willows and plow under the human waste that had accumulated. Of the 30 acres at the campsite, about half was roller-chopped.
"We decided to leave islands of vegetation and open up the other areas by mulching up the dead vegetation," said Brad Palmer, manager for the Grand Resource Area of the BLM. "It opened up areas and mulched the vegetation into the ground."
Palmer said the thick willows offer a wall of privacy that makes the area popular among campers. But the willows were so thick it also prevented nature from breaking down the human waste. It also prevented BLM crews from hauling away the waste.
People choose to camp along the Colorado River to experience the naturalness of camping in the open, because it is close to town and because of its scenic location on the banks of the river, Palmer said.
"We realized if we didn't do something and had to close the area, it would become the least desirable of all alternatives. Yet we were looking at either closure of a popular campsite or making it acceptable for use," he said.
"And considering people are going to camp there whether we want them to or not, closing it was not a real option."
Palmer said health and safety hazards of letting people camp under existing conditions were equally unacceptable. Not only was there a very real threat of someone getting hepatitis, but the thick brush created a fire hazard that could have become deadly.
Even after treatment with the roller-chopper, human waste is still a problem in some isolated areas not treated by the device. But Palmer says BLM crews can now get at the problem.
"Before we couldn't," he said, "and it was a total mess."
Palmer agreed that continued high-use camping at the site will mandate the BLM install toilets. But because the campsites lie within a flood plain, the BLM will be restricted by state law as to what it can put in there.
"We are looking at recommendations as to what is appropriate in that area, and it is our plan to provide some facilities, if not at Goose Island then in close proximity to it."
Palmer said public response to the roller-chopping solution has all been positive, save one businessman who operates Canyonlands By Night - a company that uses spotlights for night river-float trips. He complained the treatment would encourage more camping and that light from campfires would detract from his business.
A committee of federal, state and county officials is continuing its efforts to find solutions to the human waste problem and inadequate camping facilities all along the Colorado River corridor near Moab.