Thursday, August 8, 2013

New Suspects in Baker City Cryptosporidium Case?

               Cows Grazing Where They Are Not Supposed To Be; Forshey Meadows, W-WNF

                "A number of elk do congregate in the Elk Creek area."

There was a rumor going round the last week or two about ODFW putting salt blocks near the shoreline or our Goodrich Reservoir water supply and that they were  attracting the mountain goats to reservoir resulting in accumulations of scat. I spoke with Brian Ratliff, the ODFW Baker District Wildlife Biologist, yesterday and he explained that they only use salt blocks in the Goodrich Basin for about three days [at most] during annual goat roundups.  These roundups have resulted in the removal of 226 mountain goats over the years since they were introduced in 1983. They place the salt blocks in buckets to keep salts out of the water supply during the 3-day roundups, but he also told me there is permanent natural salt lick in the basin near the lake that was exposed when earth-fill was removed to create the dam. The goats use it for much of the year. He said that goat scat and etc., may be pushed into the lake from winter avalanches because the goats are on the snow banks and avalanche shoots all winter long. At the request of the city, he said that ODFW had moved the trap site last year to a new site about 120 yards from the lake. They placed sediment barriers and sloped the site so that any runoff and sediment would flow away from the lake. I explained to him that I had been involved in cattle trespass grazing issues in the past where fences aren't maintained, gates are not closed, or trees fall over fences, and was wondering whether cows get into the watershed.  He told me that ODFW was aware that cattle get into the watershed on a fairly regular basis.

These facts could account for the relatively low concentration of crypto found at Goodrich in the initial August 2nd results. The latest results from the Goodrich line have not yet been reported on the city website and I don't know if they are all in as I write. [Update: Since I wrote this, the Herald has published an article reporting that the Aug. 4 sample from the Goodrich line contained no oocysts.]

I am aware of some new results that came in yesterday morning though, and, if what I have learned is correct (and I have no reason to doubt it-Others have seen similar official email flying around) they show a large number of Crypto oocysts were found at the Elk Creek Diversion near the southern end of the watershed. The number found is a few orders of magnitue greater than the average number of oocysts found elsewhere (913 oocysts, compared to 0, 1, or 2), with the caveat however, that I am not privy to the Goodrich line results. Yesterday's city e-mail that is going around states: 
The Elk Creek water was turned out of the system as soon as the call was received this morning.  The diversion had been visually inspected on July 31st and no issues or concerns were noted i.e.: no animals or feces in the vicinity of the diversion.  A second extensive tour of the diversion site was made again this morning and again nothing out of the ordinary was present.  A number of elk do congregate in the Elk Creek area.
There have been cattle in the Elk Creek Diversion area in the past, but none this spring.
It seems to me that the results received by the city yesterday were complete enough and significant enough to have been released to the public on their website by noon yesterday. If they are released to a few individuals, who subsequently share them with their friends, then the results should have been released to all residents through the city website. Having information floating around to a special group of Baker Buddies is way too Baker. The three Rs for city sharing of information to it's citizens should be: Release it early, Release it often, Release it to everyone.
The Elk Creek Diversion is just to the north west of the thick black line inside of the blue highlight circle. The Blue Canyon Allotment, administered by the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest is to the south and east of the line, and the Baker City watershed is to the north of the black line but east of the Elkhorn Ridge. (CLICK ON PHOTOS TO ENLARGE THEM)

Elk Creek Diversion from Google Earth taken June 29, 2013.  44°44'44.00"N  117°58'26.88"W About 5187 feet

The new information suggests there may be other possible suspects in our Baker City Crypto case--cattle and/or elk.  It is well known that one species of Crypto, Cryptosporidium parvum, is commonly associated with both cattle and elk, and that it commonly causes cryptosporidiosis in humans.  

The city's email says there "have been cattle in the Elk Creek Diversion area in the past, but none this spring." Back in November 2011, after Crypto had been found in our water supply, I requested information from the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest concerning public land cattle grazing allotments adjacent to the Baker City watershed. The information I received back then indicated that there were two such allotments--the Stovepipe Allotment west of Marble Pass, and the Blue Canyon Allotment that is in the Elk Creek, Griffin Gulch area and south.  They indicated that up to 80 cattle normally graze the public land portion of the Blue Canyon Allotment from June first to September 30.  It is possible that cattle can on occasion, due to the circumstances mentioned earlier, get through allotment fences, and it commonly happens throughout the Forest Service and BLM allotments in the Western states. I have seen them trespassing on other allotments, trashing scientifically oriented exclosures, doing similar in riparian exclosures, and grazing in restricted meadows while being escorted to their proper allotments (See top photo above). Fences and cattle guards do not guarantee the exclusion of a lucky or determined cow.
                 Cow inside of riparian exclosure, Malheur National Forest

Cryptosporidium oocysts can also last for months in the environment, so it is not out of the question that something could have occurred last year that left cowpies too close to the water intake, resulting in Crypto oocysts being washed into the intake area.

More later.

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