Susan Buckley, RN, Director, Public Health
Ira Singh, MPH, Deputy Director
Donald I. Baird, MD, Health Officer

Division of Environmental Health


Date Released: 10/14/2009
Subject: Public Health Warning Issued for Mad River, Clam, Luffenholtz and Old Home Beaches News Release
Contact: Harriet Hill, Registered Environmental Specialist
Phone: 707-445-6215

The Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services Environmental Health Division is notifying recreational users of Mad River, Clam, Luffenholtz and Old Home beaches to avoid contact with ocean water near the mouths of the rivers and creeks on these beaches. People should also stay out of the rivers and creeks themselves, due to high bacterial levels in the water. The Department has posted yellow signs warning surfers, swimmers and others to stay at least 50 yards away from the mouth or opening of the Mad River, Strawberry Creek, and Luffenholtz Creek, and the seep at Old Home Beach (below the Trinidad Lighthouse). The signs also advise people using the beaches to not wade or swim in the river or creeks.

Water quality testing indicates that the state health standard for Enterococcus faecalis was exceeded at all four beaches this week. At Luffenholtz Beach, the standard for E. coli also was exceeded.

Enterococcus and E. coli are types of “indicator” bacteria whose presence often is associated with that of disease-causing bugs. These indicator bacteria do not usually cause illness in swimmers. However, high levels of these indicators mean that the water may be contaminated with other pathogens that can make people sick. Small children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems are most vulnerable to waterborne illnesses.

Indicator bacteria are routinely tested for because they are much easier to grow in the lab than most of the harmful small organisms. DHHS is currently retesting the water at the four beaches. The warning signs will be removed as soon as results show that state water quality standards have been met.

Beach water contamination is common following the first big rain event of the season like we experienced yesterday. Any contaminants or substances that have been building up on the landscape or roads during the long dry season, such as pesticides, fertilizers, sediment, animal or human waste, oil, gasoline, and litter can be washed into water bodies and carried downstream to the ocean.

As a routine precaution, DHHS recommends that people avoid contact with any creeks or rivers and the ocean for at least three days after a rainstorm.

We all can take many steps to help prevent pollutants from entering our waterways during storms. These include reducing storm runoff (e.g., by minimizing paved surfaces, planting native vegetation, and catching rain water for irrigation), maintaining septic systems, keeping grazing animals away from rivers and streams, properly disposing of pet waste, fixing car leaks, recycling used motor oil, and minimizing fertilizer and pesticide use are some recommended measures.

Weekly water quality data for the beaches monitored by the Environmental Health Division is posted on the Humboldt County website at:

The website also has more detail on pollution prevention measures, and a complete record of water quality data for the beach monitoring program. For further information, please contact the Environmental Health Division at 445-6215.


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