Sewage in your favorite swimming hole? Test results out weekly.

Water quality checks

Before you head out this weekend to your local swimming hole, you may want to check out the Swim Guide. Local environmental groups are testing the waters to keep your family from getting sick.

Bonnie Herenu and her family love the nature part of Buck Creek in Helena. But they don't swim, just wade in the water. "We don't put head under water, or hands in our mouth and always shower up afterwards," says Herenu.

Reports of high E. coli levels and sewage spills where families swim and fish are alarming. She and others question why the state Department of Environmental Management doesn't alert the public about dangerous water quality issues. Posted signs would help here and at other popular spots.

With the lack of public information, the Cahaba and Coosa Riverkeepers launched the Swim Guide four years ago. Each week from May to September they test 36 water areas popular for swimming and boating. "We've uncovered some pretty disturbing things," says David Butler with the Cahaba Riverkeeper. Dirty water puts swimmers at risk for ear and eye infections along with gastrointestinal problems.

This year's first published results found twelve areas with high E. coli. They are some of the worst levels ever recorded by the group. "The previous two weeks we're seeing levels 20 times higher than is safe to swim in. We're extremely concerned," warns Butler. One of those spots is the Elder Street crossing on Shades Creek. Butler says he would not swim there until pollution issues are addressed.

Butler is critical of what he calls ADEM'S lack of effort to warn the public about unsafe water. "We're not sure why they don't take things more seriously," says Butler.

Test results come out on the Swim Guide every Friday. You can sign up for alerts online:

Environmental groups are pushing state legislation requiring the public to be notified of unsafe water conditions.

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