Annual beach bacteria testing underway

Jun 9, 2021

Bacteria levels are often higher in the Kenai area in July, during dipnetting season.
Credit Redoubt Reporter

The state will test water in Kenai, Ketchikan and Hoonah this summer for bacteria, part of its continuing program to detect waterborne illnesses at recreational beaches around Alaska. 

Environmental Program Specialist Laura Eldred said the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has been monitoring the north and south Kenai beaches since 2010.

“Those beaches were selected because they have high recreational use and there’s also a lot of sources where the bacteria could be coming from," she said.

Like a gull rookery nearby. Dogs in the area can also carry bacteria through their waste.

Eldred said they’ve detected high levels of bacteria at those beaches before.

"Usually we see higher bacteria levels during the month of July," she said. "And that’s also when we see a lot of people in the area. But it’s also the maximum nesting time for that rookery.”

Once DEC collects samples, it sends them to a lab in Anchorage. That has to happen quickly, since bacteria can reproduce fast and DEC wants a sample representative of the area. 

Eldred said DEC posts results on beaches.alaska.gov. If there are elevated levels of bacteria, they’ll contact local officials and recommend people avoid swimming. That’s because the bacteria can make people sick.

"So it’s just best to wash if you’ve been exposed to those elevated levels," she said. "And as far as the fish go, they are safe to eat. But we do recommend that people rinse the fish with clean water after they’ve been harvested from the area. And then, of course, that they always follow food handling recommendations, and to cook the fish to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.” 

DEC will be monitoring the beaches every other week until September. 

The beach monitoring program is funded by a grant from the national Environmental Protection Agency. Anchor Point, Homer and Kasilof have all been testing targets in the past.