The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation collected flood water samples on May 5, and will continue to collect samples each week as the water recedes. The results are analyzed for e.coli because it is an indicator of pathogens, which, when elevated, are most likely to cause illness from short-term exposure such as contacting flood water.
Sample results provide a snapshot in time of what may be in the flood waters. We always encourage everyone to stay out of flood waters, to keep children out of flood waters, and to wash with soap and warm tap water if contact cannot be avoided.
All of the samples from May 5 fall within the recreational water quality limit for e.coli with the exception of Cypress Creek, which has historical water quality problems. The department posted Cypress Creek last year prior to the flood, warning against body contact and fish consumption. That announcement is available on TDEC’s website at http://news.tn.gov/node/5256.
It is important to note that wastewater treatment plants in West Tennessee are functioning, though many manholes and pump stations are underwater. This can cause localized releases of sewage into the flood waters in impacted areas. As flood waters inundate parking lots, agricultural fields, pastures, etc., they will pick up contaminants from those surfaces as well. While dilution is significant due to the volumes of water involved, flood water can carry a variety of contaminants, so again, we urge people not to contact the flood water.