San Felipe Creek bacteria

Del Rioans dive at the San Felipe Creek, in the place known as the Blue Hole. The site has become a tradition for locals to beat the heat every summer. Officials are now investigating “higher-than-normal” bacteria readings in some spots, including the Blue Hole.

State investigators “don’t have a theory yet” about higher-than-normal bacteria readings in certain areas of the San Felipe Creek, members of the city’s parks and recreation advisory board learned Thursday.

Joe Joplin, a member of the board, gave an update on the bacteria readings to his colleagues last week during a board meeting. Joplin made his remarks about the tests during an update on the work being done by the Protect San Felipe Creek Committee, an ad-hoc group formed to address problems along the creek and to find creative solutions to protect it.

The higher-than-normal readings of bacterial contamination came to light earlier this year after rounds of testing by Elsa Hull of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Two rounds of testing showing higher-than-normal reading of E. coli, a bacteria that comes from mammal feces.

Joplin told parks board colleagues Texas Parks and Wildlife Department staffers visited the creek on Oct. 7 to survey invasive species, including the Arundo donax, often called carrizo cane, and the armored catfish.

“Basically, this was to develop a plan of action and a cost estimate, a plan of attack,” Joplin said.

The group also conducted a biodiversity survey of fish species in the creek and will at a later date provide a full assessment of their findings, he said.

“They recognize the San Felipe Creek as super-important, fed by the third-largest spring in Texas, and if we are to get money, funding, this is sort of the first step,” Joplin said.

Joplin also told parks board members Hull is planning to return to the creek at the end of the month to do further water testing at several sites along the creek.

In previous tests, areas around the creek’s “Blue Hole,” a popular swimming spot, showed some of the highest levels of bacterial contamination.

“She doesn’t have a theory as yet as to why there is E. coli in certain areas and why there isn’t in other areas,” Joplin said.

He noted in her next investigations, Hull plans to “bracket” those areas of the creek showing higher-than-normal bacterial contamination.

“She’s going to do more tests in those areas to try and narrow down what’s going on. She’s still working on that,” Joplin said.

He said the city could also reach out to Hull and contact her directly to discuss further testing.

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