I still remember one glorious sunny midday spent in a canoe wending our way down the Big Sioux. The air was warm, there was a slight breeze, no bugs and the canopy of trees over the river made it seem like we were somewhere far away from our ever-growing city. Don't get me wrong I did no paddling, Ben did all the work. To be honest he was pretty impressive, but don't tell him I said so. Okay?

Would I ever do it again? Not in this lifetime! Why? I spent some quality time reading a weekend John Hult Argus Leader report on recent and on-going testing of our beleaguered Big Sioux River, the results of which are stomach-turning, at best!

The scientific team which did the research is from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. They reported their findings to the East Dakota Water Development District. The good news is that testing will continue and hopefully more progress will be made in cleaning up what could be an even bigger community and tourism resource. The bad news is - plentiful.

Here are just a few disturbing passages from this story:

The river has been tagged as an “impaired water body” for years, thanks to an overabundance of E. coli and fecal coliform bacteria. Swimming is never recommended; canoeing and kayaking can be risky."

 

“We found Shiga toxin genes in levels that are equivalent to what you would see in Third World countries, where people are dying in massive outbreaks,. . .“We have all the ingredients in the Big Sioux to create one of these super bugs,” School of Mines graduate student Kelsey Murray said Thursday."

 

Fully 95 percent of the samples pulled from Skunk Creek and the Big Sioux River last summer contained Shiga toxin and veratoxin, two of the virulence indicators that can turn often-harmless E. coli into the disease-causing O157:H7.

Another genetic virulence indicator called Intimin was present in 100 percent of the samples. That gene, swapped freely and replicated by E. coli, helps colonies embed themselves in the human gut and thrive."

The conclusion is that more study is needed to determine where the contamination comes from and what can be done to mitigate it.

In the meantime, I shall be enjoying the Big Sioux from a distance.

Scientific study findings reported by John Hult in the Argus Leader.


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