So I made it out to the springs and tested the water at the end of February 2010 from the faucet at the Lower Warm Springs (crystal pool area) and sent them to a certified laboratory for analysis of Total Coliform with E.Coli, and a Heterotrophic plate count.
1.) There was no Coliforms or E.Coli bacteria present in the water (An indicator of fecal contamination) which would cause diarrhea if present.
2.) The Heterotrophic plate count was high estimated at 7,600 CFU/ml (An indicator of total bacterial levels in the water although generally not harmful it is useful at assessing the fitness of water delivery systems).
Conclusion of testing: There was no evidence at the time of testing that the source water has been contaminated with human sewage. There are conditions present to support the high HPC measured. Presently conditions exist such as the stagnant/standing water at the source, and possible contamination of the plumbing system, and contamination of the uncovered source by wildlife. Boiling for a few minutes before drinking would be ideal.
About Heterotrophic plate count levels:
Heterotrophic Bacteria are naturally occurring in the environment. High plate counts commonly occur due to re-growth which occurs in areas of distribution or plumbing systems where the water may remain stationary for a significant amount of time; this also commonly occurs in bottled water, water softeners or carbon filters. In order to ensure that re-growth of bacteria is kept to a minimum, general water safety practices such as maintenance protocols, regular cleaning, temperature management (boiling your water) and maintenance of a disinfectant residual (e.g. Chlorine) could be used. If the HPC are high one could consider looking at whether the system is stagnant, has been adequately cleaned, whether the disinfectant residual is effective, and the efficiency of temperature management. A failing in any of these areas could lead to elevated HPC levels. There are no government standards to acceptable plate count levels. Generally plate counts above 500CFU/ml are considered high.
Please note: Environmental Sampling only reveals a snapshot of the conditions at the time of testing. All environmental sampling is limited actual levels may be higher and/or lower and seasonal conditions may also affect results.
Methodology: Sample(s) were collected in pre-sealed sterile 150ml plastic containers using sterile gloves and no direct contact occurred during sampling. Water was allowed to run for five minutes before collecting the sample from the faucet at the lower springs. Samples were sent to a CA state certified environmental testing laboratory.
Disclaimer: The information posted here is purely informational and not meant to act a conclusive scientific study or substitute for a standard water potability test.
Areas for future study by SPA:
1.) A sample from the source collected in tandem with a sample from the faucet to see if the elevated levels are arising from the plumbing piping. Due to cost and the fact people are concerned with potability and water is only collected from the faucet for drinking and not the source. I only had the sample from the faucet at the lower springs analyzed - the Palm spring (wizard pool area) and primitive Upper Warm Spring was not sampled.
2.) What types of bacteria are contained and at what levels occur seasonally? Further analysis would be necessary which would involve further culturing of multiple samples over regular time intervals (this could be costly).
3.) What effect does having the source being open and stagnant lead to the elevated HPC levels if the plumbing is found to not be contributing to high levels. Factors of concern would be the contamination of the uncovered source pool by coyotes, bats, burro’s, birds and the many small rodents that frequent the area. A half inch screen above the source would limit wildlife contamination but an alternate water pool or trough would need to be established for the benefit of affected species.
4.) Completing a standard water potability test consisting of drawing a sample from a known property or water source, providing Nitrate/Nitrogen and Coliform Bacteria Testing, along with E.Coli testing (FHA/VA). It also means providing testing for Total Dissolved Solids, Water Hardness, pH, and Iron Content Testing. A metals profile analysis would also be useful for additional data.
Happy Easter/Spring Break to All!
Have fun at the springs!