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

Division of Environmental Health


Date Released: 11/18/2009
Subject: Public Health Warning Issued for Mad River, Luffenholtz and Trinidad Beaches
Contact: Kevin Metcalfe, Supervising Environmental Health Specialist
Phone: (707) 268-2210

The Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Environmental Health Division is notifying recreational users of the Mad River, Luffenholtz and Trinidad Beaches to avoid contact with ocean water near the river or creeks on these beaches. Due to high bacterial levels in the water, DHHS has posted yellow signs warning surfers and swimmers to stay at least 50 yards away from the mouth or opening of the Mad River, Luffenholtz Creek, and Mill Creek (at Trinidad State Beach). The signs also advise people to not wade or swim in these waterways.

Water quality testing conducted on Tuesday November 17th indicates that the state health standard for Enterococcus faecalis was exceeded at all three beaches. At the north bank of the Mad River and at Luffenholtz Beach, the standards for fecal coliform and for the ratio of fecal coliform to total coliform also were exceeded.

Enterococcus and fecal coliform are types of “indicator” bacteria whose presence often is associated with that of disease-causing microorganisms. 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 three beaches. The warning signs will be removed as soon as results show that state water quality standards have been met.

Tuesday’s heavy rainfall was typical of the kind of weather that often results in contamination of waterways throughout the state. 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 not swim or surf in creeks, rivers or within 100 yards of any river or creek mouth 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 707-445-6215.


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