Remember when your Mom said that if you kept hanging around with troublemakers, you’d get a bad reputation?? Well that’s what happened to little ol’ E-coli.
E-coli is actually a very good bacteria – it lives in the digestive tracts of all warm-blooded animals; from mice to moose, from hummingbirds to herons; and of course, in humans. There are approximately 225 unique strains of E-coli, and they are essential to the functioning of a healthy digestive system. E-coli is reliable – it always indicates its presence in a Petri dish. And it’s cheap: it doesn’t cost much to run a Lab Test for E-coli. It’s so trustworthy, it’s been given its own nickname: “F.B.I.” which stands for Fecal Bacteria Indicator.
Mom was right, however. If E-coli is “Snow White” – she’s always accompanied by The Seven Pathogens. (A pathogen is a microorganism that makes us sick). The Nasty Seven are called Salmonella, Giardia, Cryptosporidium, Campylobacter, Streptococci, Enterococci, and Clostridium. (There’s more, actually – but then I lose my storyline…LOL!) These pathogens can kill; or make you so sick that you WISH you were dead…. E-coli has a dark side, too: it has one strain labeled 0157-H7 and it’s a news-maker when it gets into the commercial food chain and creates an outbreak of illness. Normally, 0157 is somewhat uncommon; but studies have shown that when cattle are fed a high-energy, corn-based diet, the pH in their digestive tract changes to favor E-coli 0157. The bacteria is shed in manure, which then tends to be spread on the fields and crops that are used to feed the cattle; and the cycle continues.
So the revelation is: when we discover E-coli, we’ve also found a lot of other fecal bacteria. And they’re tough little buggers, unfortunately. Tests done by the University of Wisconsin show that E-coli 0157 can live from 2 months to a year in manure; 2 days to 10 months in soil; and 2 weeks to 6 months in water, depending on how “friendly” those environments are. The Nasty Seven are equally as long-lived, sad to say. Some can form spores and live through the worst of conditions, for over a year.
So what makes a friendly environment for a bacteria to “live long and prosper”? All my studying (yes, I read a LOT about “cooties”…LOL!) shows that fecal bacteria enjoy wet sand, for example (think the beach) – but if you give them a nice organic sediment, moderate water temperatures, and a lack of sunlight?? They’ll move in and become “endemic”. That means they like the neighborhood so much that they’ll raise a family there, too. Sometimes they become anti-social, find a nice textured surface, cover themselves with a coating of slime, and just hang out, undetected, for months. Until something or somebody disturbs them. (Go stick your finger inside your garden hose. Feel the slime???
Betcha don’t drink out of THAT ever again…LOL!).
Sadly, the Cuddy Drain is a fecal bacteria’s idea of a Five-Star Resort. Nice, shady locations offering pools filled with organic debris (leaves/grass/branches, etc) and a steady supply of nutrients from farm and residential runoff. It never dries up, nor gets too hot or too cold. Bottom line: there will ALWAYS be *some* fecal bacteria in the Cuddy Drain. The trick now becomes: How To Attain Acceptable Levels.
For starters, don’t put fecal bacteria in the Cuddy in the first place. Duh! While there’s not much we can do about the deer or raccoon or duck who poops in the Drain – we CAN be careful when spreading manure. The Michigan DEQ advises farmers to adhere to “BMPs”: Best Management Practices. Like leaving a nice wide Buffer Strip between a crop and the Drain or its tributaries. Fencing livestock at least 25′ away. Not allowing runoff from feedlots to enter the Drain. There’s a 28′ drop in elevation from the far reaches of the Cuddy Watershed to the bridge at Patterson Rd. Manure accidentally dropped in the Cuddy can be in Gun Lake (over 2 miles away) in under an hour. But there are others sources besides farming; illicit connections from buildings/homes to Drains, using the Drain like an open sewer – or simply a home with a failing septic system (so far, testing has NOT shown this to be the case along the Cuddy); the careless RV’er or boater who dump their Black Tanks illegally; or even some moron using a Pitching Wedge to loft dog turds into the waterway? Hey – nothing surprises ME anymore.
I must add – the source that looks the most obvious, the Biosolids Program (where wastewater treatment sludge is injected into the soil) – is NOT to blame for elevated E-coli levels. This program is monitored by the DEQ out of Grand Rapids; the pathogens are killed before the sludge is injected 10″ underground; and a DEQ representative is on-site making sure there are NO signs of raw sludge or liquid standing about. Dead E-coli does NOT register on an E-coli test. If you see a field with liquid waste on the surface – it’s NOT sewage sludge.
Everything you ever wanted to know about Biosolids:
Secondly – let’s not provide a lovely habitat for bacteria to thrive in. If you see debris in the Drain – pull it out! Do your part for a healthy Drain 🙂 Don’t become part of what I like to call the “Oops! Cycle”: where one homeowner lets some grass clippings blow into the channel and thinks “oops!”. Another homeowner blows some leaves into the channel and thinks “oops!”. Another homeowner applies lawn fertilizer with phosphorus – “oops!” A farm worker cuts a little too close to the Drain while spreading manure a mile upstream, and thinks “oops!”….. ALL those elements combine to form the perfect environment for bacteria to grow – and chances are the homeowners are the most directly affected by the unsafe levels of E-coli in their recreational water, yet don’t realize their own participation.
“Snow White and the Seven Pathogens” need to find a home elsewhere.