Unsafe Levels of E. Coli Found in American River

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Those looking for relief from the heat may want to think twice before swimming at Discovery Park. Tests conducted over seven years have shown unsafe levels of E. coli in the lower American River. Some believe an increase in the number of homeless camps is to blame.

On a hot day, the American River may seem like an oasis. However, under its surface there is a dangerous bacteria.

"I literally grew up a half mile from the river, it was my playground as a kid," said rafter Phil Warner.

But Warner knows the river is much different now.

"Sewage problem, basically, yeah, that is disturbing," he said.

A new Regional Water Quality Control Board report looked at test results from several dozen sites along the American River Parkway between 2007 and 2014. At least three of those sites had E. coli levels beyond what the EPA recommends for recreational water use. Now the state is taking action.

"Essentially recommended this section of the river to be listed on what's called a federal 303D list of impaired waterways," said Adam Laputz with the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

The board says getting federal help will allow them to determine exactly what is causing the E. coli.

"The homeless are definitely a factor, but not the only factor," said Stephen Green, president of Save the American River Association.

Green says while the ever-growing number of homeless camps certainly doesn't help, old sewage pipes and flooding are also part of the problem.

"We've had a lot of problems with sewage districts around here. When we had the heavy rains in January and February, the Sacramento Sewer Agency had 400,000 gallons spilled," Green said.

It's a problem with the river Jill Steven learned the hard way.

"I kayaked about three years ago out of Lake Natoma, and I picked wild blackberries, and I'm a nurse myself, and I rinsed some off in the water, and I got really, really sick," said Jill Steven.

The disturbing report is not keeping Warner of of his raft, but he plans to be careful.

"Not going to drink the water, and shower afterwards," Warner said.

Last week the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors passed a $5 million budget to clean up the American River Parkway, allowing them to hire rangers to enforce the no camping ban. That budget will also allow social workers to help get homeless of the river and into housing.