E. coli contamination in wells near Rohnert Park prompts alert
Sonoma County officials fanned out in the Canon Manor neighborhood east of Rohnert Park this week warning dozens of residents that water drawn from private wells may be contaminated with E. coli and fecal coliform bacteria.
Two wells outside homes in the neighborhood near Sonoma State University already have tested positive for what county officials called “extremely high” levels of the two strains of bacteria. The county ordered the property owners to discontinue using the wells, which are in the 1700 block of Lynn Drive. The owners have subsequently hooked up to a system operated by the Penngrove/Kenwood Water Co.
County health officials stressed that there have been no reports of anyone being sickened from drinking or using water from contaminated wells in Canon Manor. Symptoms of E. coli infection include abdominal distress and headaches. It’s unknown whether the contamination also includes potentially deadly strains of the bacteria as the county’s lab tests are not that specific, according to Karen Holbrook, the county’s deputy health officer.
“We’re acting out of an abundance of caution,” she said.
The county first received a complaint about sewage odors emanating from a well Dec. 18 from a property owner on Lynn Drive. Tests of wells on two adjacent properties revealed the presence of more than 2,419 colonies of E. coli and fecal coliform in a 100-milliliter sampling of water. There are no safe levels for either bacteria.
Seeking to understand the scope of the problem, county officials on Wednesday began canvassing the neighborhood in a quarter-mile radius around that location, knocking on doors to alert residents about the concern and to ask permission to test wells. A notice to all Canon Manor residents was being sent Thursday via mail. There are more than 200 lots in the area, but it was not immediately clear how many residents live in the neighborhood.
“We’re moving expeditiously to understand the extent of this so we can take the appropriate steps,” Holbrook said.
She said results of lab tests on water taken from additional wells won’t be known for a few more days. The county is seeking only to test private, residential wells. Those operated by Penngrove/Kenwood are monitored by the state.
One resident who answered her door Thursday expressed appreciation for the county’s efforts.
“I want to know what’s going on,” said Arryn Schram, whose family uses a well to irrigate.
The neighborhood, which is in an unincorporated part of the county, is linked to Rohnert Park’s sewer system and to the public water system operated by Penngrove/Kenwood Water Co.
That arrangement sought to end decades of bitter dispute over failing individual septic systems. Beginning in 1976, excessive and elevated levels of nitrates began showing up in a few private wells. Health inspectors said the contamination likely emanated from fecal material from former chicken farms in the area.
Some residents held fast to their desire to continue using private wells. But county officials and a bloc of other Canon Manor residents pushed for an assessment district to fund sewer and water line construction. The assessment district failed three times in votes before passing in 2001.
The county installed a sewer main in the subdivision before handing over management of the system to Rohnert Park.