E. coli levels in the lower American River are still unsafe. Will this new testing help?

The lower American River continues to be contaminated with potentially harmful levels of bacteria, water regulators said this week, and they are taking steps to pinpoint the sources in an effort to protect the waterway and the public.

Beginning this summer, staffers from the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board will launch a yearlong study using sophisticated DNA testing to determine the sources of E. coli bacteria that have been found at levels higher than federal regulators recommend for safe recreational use of waterways. The sources of contamination are unknown, but likely include human waste from homeless camps, sewer overflows, wildlife and domestic dogs, officials said.

The testing will show what percentage of the bacteria is from people versus animals and birds, and whether it contains potentially dangerous pathogens such as giardia, salmonella and Hepatitis A, said Adam Laputz, the board’s assistant executive director. The study is expected to cost $300,000 to $400,000.

Information gathered by the agency will help county health officials determine the level of risk to people who use the river for boating, swimming, kayaking, fishing and other recreational activities, Laputz said. It also will help authorities figure out ways to reduce bacteria levels in the waterway.

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