SHERIDAN — An environmental group plans to monitor bacteria in Bighorn National Forest streams after high levels of fecal coliform were detected in one stream.
A fisherman two years ago took water samples on the North Tongue River in an area where as many as 700 cattle grazed. The sample showed a large number of E. coli bacteria, according to Jonathan Ratner, director of the Wyoming office of the Western Watersheds Project in Pinedale.
"They were way, way over standards," Ratner said. "It made the Forest Service realize they had a problem."
The group plans to monitor streams that the U.S. Forest Service is not monitoring.
More water samples were taken later in 2003 and last year. As many as 1,730 E. coli colonies per 100 milliliters of water were found, according to district ranger Craig Yancey.
The threshold for safe swimming is 126 colonies. For fishing, it is 630.
Yancey said E. coli increase soon after cattle are put in the area to graze. Elk herds and people also use the area and Yancey said more tests this summer will attempt to find out if cattle are indeed responsible.
Ratner said he and some interns will do the water quality tests. He has received grants for equipment and has been trained to test according to state data quality laws, he said.
Bill DiRienzo, program supervisor for the watershed program for the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, said the agency will need to have confidence in whoever is taking the samples to be assured of the results.
He said Western Watersheds Project had not been in contact with his agency.
DiRienzo said the department received a complaint several years ago about water quality on the North Tongue and has been working with the Forest Service to address the problem.
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