The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has issued a warning about elevated bacteria levels on Kenai's North Beach at the mouth of the river.
Samples taken last Tuesday showed elevated levels of enterococci (enter-oh-cockeye) bacteria and fecal coliform, exposure to which can cause stomach aches, diarrhea and ear, eye and skin infections.
The samples taken at Kenai North Beach contained 139 units per 100 milliliters of enterococci bacteria, almost four times higher than what is considered safe for direct contact, officials.
The same high levels were measured at the Kenai River mouth last summer, but the announcement took Kenai City officials by surprise. So much so that last month the Kenai City Council threatened to withhold city funds to help take the measurements.
The city provides $5,000 yearly to help pay for the water sampling, which is contracted to the Kenai Watershed Forum. The actual measurements are done by the Department of Environmental Conservation.
At a Kenai City Council meeting last month, Councilman Henry Knackstedt acknowledged the value of the testing, but questioned its frequency. Councilwoman Glenese Petty also suggested looking for non-human sources of the bacteria.
“In the light of this when y'all are doing these water samples, would you please take into consideration that we have a gull rookery right there that puts in a lot of trash and excrement into the water,” she said. “And if that could be relayed to some people who are concerned about the quality of the water that's in the river, and anyway, I would just point that out to you in the event that you didn't know that and you may very well have known that but I just wanted to bring it to your attention.”
And indeed, the DEC says the most likely source of the enterococci bacteria is birds, but it can come from any warm-blooded animal, including humans and pets.
The DEC recommends seafood harvested from the area should be rinsed with clean water and cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit The agency encouraged beachgoers to rinse off with clean, fresh water if they are exposed to marine water.
Officials said bacteria levels were normal in water samples taken from the South Kenai Beach, Warren Ames Bridge and Kenai River gull rookeries 1 and 2.
The environmental conservation agency tests the water at those locations weekly from May through September