Stretches of Mill Creek upstream from the Youth Garden Project were recently found to contain excess levels of E. coli bacteria. But public health officials say that popular recreational areas along Mill and Pack creeks – including the Powerhouse Dam area – remain safe for swimming.

“The areas where people are recreating, the water’s great,” said Orion Rogers of the Southeastern Utah District Health Department. “Ken’s Lake is awesome; it’s doing really well. Power Dam is doing really well. (There) is nothing scary in those areas.”

The areas that Rogers identified are upstream of a natural pool near the Youth Garden Project off 400 East, where the group took its summer campers every Tuesday and Thursday.

When Rogers found out about the excursions, he approached the Youth Garden Project and asked the group not to use the creek because he felt that there was an inherent health risk to a highly susceptible population of younger kids.

“They have made other arrangements,” he said. “They’ve got Slip ‘N Sides; they’ve got other ways to play in safe water.”

Most strains of E. coli are harmless; the types of E. coli that can cause illness can be transmitted through contaminated water or food, or through contact with animals or people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some kinds of E. coli can cause diarrhea, while others cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia and other illnesses, the CDC says.

Certain areas of Mill and Pack creeks currently exceed the national standard for E. coli bacteria of more than 409 colonies in a single 100-milliliter sample.

“They’ve both been listed at the state level,” Rogers said.

However, Rogers, along with Moab Area Watershed Partnership watershed coordinator Arne Hultquist and Utah Division of Environmental Quality environmental scientist Mike Allred, have been working together to resolve the issue of E. coli contamination in both creeks.

At the same time, they and others are trying to find the source of the contamination that has been identified and remediate the situation. Rogers said that a failing septic system is believed to be responsible for that contamination.

For now, Rogers reiterated that the areas above and just below Powerhouse Dam remain safe for swimmers and others.

“I don’t think there’s an inherent risk there,” he said.

Official says Powerhouse Dam area remains safe for swimmers