Mill Creek E. Coli Levels Still Unsafe; Data Kept Quiet Despite Efforts
E. Coli contamination remains dangerously unsafe at the confluence of Mill Creek into the Chattahoochee River with levels 4.3x the EPA’s limit, according to recent data published by the Chattahoochee River Conservancy on July 14. However, the data is only published to local social media pages and remains absent from the entire searchable internet. Explore the full story to see the data visualized, along with a look at what the good people at the CRC had to say.
An artistic expression of E. Coli bacteria swimming atop a colorized image of the Mill Creek confluence with the Chattahoochee River between Phenix City, Alabama and Columbus, Georgia. The confluence has consistently been shown to contain dangerously high levels of E. Coli contamination, though the data remains only locally published and absent from the searchable internet.
Image Credit:
Muscogee Muckraker

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COLUMBUS, Ga. — Levels of E. Coli water contamination at the confluence of Mill Creek into the Chattahoochee River remains dangerously unsafe, according to the most recent data published locally on the Chattahoochee River Conservancy’s (CRC) Facebook page on July 14, 2023.

The data showed levels of E. Coli contamination 4.3 times the maximum safety limit for recreational use.

The contamination of E. Coli demonstrates the definitive presence of fecal matter in the water. The consistently-dangerous level of measured contamination has been a chronic problem that Phenix City officials claim they “cannot explain.”

The data, — which is collected weekly by the CRC from Memorial Day through Labor Day — has not been published to the organization’s website nor anywhere else on the searchable internet since 2021.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, levels of E. Coli above 235 Colony Forming Units (CFU) per each sample of 100 mL of water deems the location unsafe for recreational activity. Additionally, the EPA recommends levels to be ideally maintained under 100 cfu/100mL.

The recorded levels at the Mill Creek confluence, however, continue to be completely off the charts, with measurements greater than ten times the EPA’s maximum safety limit.

The E. Coli contamination levels measured and reported by the CRC at the Mill Creek confluence with the Chattahoochee River are as follows:

  • May 31: 325.5 cfu/100mL
  • June 9: 206.4 cfu/100mL
  • June 16: 613.1 cfu/100mL
  • June 23: 648.8 cfu/100mL
  • June 30: 2419.6 cfu/100mL
  • July 7: 1986.3 cfu/100mL
  • July 14: 1011.2 cfu/100mL

One month ago on June 9, the CRC provided comment on the ongoing contamination and their efforts to work with Phenix City officials to identify the cause:

“Mill Creek is an ongoing issue which we’ve been meeting with Phenix City representatives about, in hopes of finding the source of the problem and resolving it. They’ve expressed to us that they are working on repairs that they believe will fix the problem. In the meantime, we’re committed to providing the community with the information from the results that we have, so everyone can be informed.”

One month later, on July 8, the CRC still was not given any definitive answer from the City of Phenix City as to what was causing the dangerous levels of fecal contamination. The CRC provided the following comment when asked about the cause of the problem:

“We’re in the process of working to find out. Phenix City officials took a Creek walk on Friday (July 7) to try to identify the source of the problem and we are in ongoing communication with them about this. We make our results public so the community can stay informed, and hope to find the source of the problem soon so we can begin working with Phenix City to fix it.”

As of July 14, despite the CRC’s claim of relentless effort to publicize the data on the issue, data of the contamination remains only locally-published on the CRC’s social media pages; it is not even published on their own website, nor anywhere else on the searchable internet for anyone with a google machine to see.

In fact, data from all 17 of the organization’s sampling sites has not even been published to their own website for nearly two years.

Though the organization used to publish its data to the World Wide Web every week through the popular website SwimGuide, it suddenly stopped making the data available in any searchable format on the internet in 2021 without any explanation. 

SwimGuide is ranked as the nation’s leading website for recreational water quality information. It received 227,000 pageviews last month alone in June 2023, compared to the CRC’s 5.2k local facebook followers.

As a result, any basic google search from anywhere in the country for “can you swim in the river in Columbus” reveals results that make no mention whatsoever of the water contamination problem at Mill Creek, nor anywhere else throughout the watershed of downtown Columbus, Georgia.

Conveniently, tourists from across the country are not able to view data on the river’s contamination levels unless they somehow already knew to specifically search for the CRC’s page on Facebook instead of using google like a normal person.

The lack of current data presents a misleading narrative that no issue even exists.

Knowing that SwimGuide was viewed more than 227,000 times last month, we reached out to the CRC to ask why they stopped publishing the data to their website and SwimGuide. They responded with the following:

 “We’ve found very few people used the app vs. the amount of people we can reach on social media sites.”

The CRC then informed us that their local social media posts reached 9,000 people last month — which completely contradicts their answer, as that is several hundred thousand fewer than SwimGuide’s reach of 227,000 pageviews during the same time frame.

Considering the organization specializes in water sampling through applied data science, we believe it is a safe bet to say that the CRC completely understands the prima facie fallaciousness of their claim.

This all begs the question: why has the CRC’s data not been published anywhere on the searchable internet since 2021, and why is the CRC — which truly does in fact care very deeply about our river — making up illogical and provably-false reasons for having stopped?

In the meantime, consider these few factual premises: Mill Creek's E. Coli levels have remained between five and ten times the EPA’s maximum safety limit for the entire summer; No cause has yet been provided by city officials; No data has been published on the searchable internet since 2021.

We’ll leave it to you as the reader to deduce your own conclusions, given the aMaZiNg tourism going on around here.

Facts are stubborn things — and we’ll keep publishing them, whether city officials like them or not.


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