Terry Thies: A New Chapter in ‘The Book of E. Coli’ | TheUnion.com

Terry Thies: A New Chapter in ‘The Book of E. Coli’

By Terry Thies Chairman Wildwood Lake Committee
Lake Wildwood sits idle as beach closures due to E.coli found in the water have prompted folks to stay out until water quality gets better.
Elias Funez/efunez@theunion.com |

On the February 5, we will begin a new chapter in the ongoing E. Coli outbreak investigation that began here in July of last year. Dr. John Griffith, a consultant hired by Nevada County, will begin his independent investigation. Dr. Griffith is head of the Microbiology Department and Coordinator of Molecular Technology at the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project.

And yes, that is lovingly referred to as “squirp.”

He will visit Lake Wildwood and meet with Lake Committee member Bill Yanko sometime Wednesday or Thursday of that week. Bill has already forwarded all of our historical lake data, lake testing protocol, testing data after the outbreak and a comprehensive risk assessment profile of our lake.

The risk assessment is very important as the end game here, in addition to trying to pinpoint the cause of the outbreak, is to agree on a program going forward that will allow the beaches to reopen and the swim advisory to be lifted.

We have been assured by the county that Dr. Griffith will have access to all the facts and data germane to this investigation, and that Lake Wildwood Association will, in turn, have unfiltered access to Dr. Griffith.

This is a very complex investigation, and I have learned a lot more about E. Coli than I ever could have imagined. We are very fortunate to have Bill Yanko on our lake committee as he has the training and background experience to guide us through this process.

Bill was the head of the microbiology lab for the Los Angeles Sanitary District for most of his career and has been involved in many projects related to the science involved in this investigation.

We are also fortunate to have John Norton on the committee who has spent the better part of his career with the California Water Board.  It is also important to remember that Nevada County is the regulatory authority regarding the E. Coli outbreak, and the Nevada County Health Department is the lead agency.

We have to live and work within those parameters, but we also are the directly affected party here and must be proactive in our input. It is a difficult and fine line to walk.

And now for an emotional side trip that I need to take.

Please do not believe everything you hear and read from other sources about the facts and science regarding this investigation.

Of particular issue are the postings on NextDoor. There is more false and misleading information going out over that site than I care to address.

Our general manager has been as open and transparent as possible and will keep the membership informed in a timely manner through eBlasts, eBits and the The Wildwood Independent.

The lake committee meetings are scheduled every first Wednesday of the month at 2 p.m. at the community center. They are open to the membership and any questions from members will be addressed.

As part of the limited data collected last summer, one of the three goose samples taken was found to be infected with the E. Coli O157:H7 strain identical to that of the individuals affected by the outbreak. It was also carrying the Shiga toxin, also known as STEC, and that toxin is what makes people sick.

Unless that sample was corrupted, which is highly unlikely, it points to the geese at least being a vector for STEC. This does not explain where the goose picked up the STEC or prove the affected individuals picked up the STEC from geese.

There could be possible sources other than the geese. Other data patterns however, such as the random nature of the E. Coli indicator readings at the waterline of the beaches, point to the geese as likely carriers of E. Coli.

It is this inability to pinpoint cause and effect that has made the county and state agencies reticent to support a depredation permit to trap and euthanize our resident geese. This may change as the investigation progresses, but for now we are on our own with the geese.

Our goose exclusion program has been relatively successful for the past 10 years, and we have reduced the population of resident geese dramatically. Unfortunately we still have about 75 to 85 that hang around and are very difficult to dislodge.

We use approved goose dogs to patrol the parks, night lasers to discourage overnighting, coordinated boat and dog operations to clear the lake, radio-controlled boats to get into tight corners and egg oiling in the spring to minimize the new population of goslings.

These are all volunteer operations and we depend on the time and pocketbooks of our membership. Since the geese are on a 24/7 schedule and we have a 300-acre lake sanctuary, we have reached somewhat of a stalemate at the moment.

We are going to try some new tactics to see what else might work. We will try a low rope fence at Explorer Park, two amber strobe lights on part of the shoreline in Commodore and a Bird-B-Gone audio machine at meadow.

It’s really hard to get any reliable feedback on the efficacy of these techniques and products so trial and error is unfortunately our only default alternative. These are somewhat out of the envelope of our tried and true methods, but just maybe there will be a diamond in the rough somewhere.

Our general manager and facilities staff have been very supportive of the program so we’re fortunate in that respect. Please be assured that the board, staff and the lake committee are doing all that we possibly can to move forward and find a workable solution to this problem.

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