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Bacteria pollution in Little Butte Creek is getting worse

Rogue Riverkeeper’s bacteria study finds increasing health risks

Data from a 2011 Rogue Riverkeeper study released today show that fecal bacteria levels in Little Butte Creek are not improving; they are in fact getting worse

Bacteria pollution in Little Butte Creek is getting worse

Warning sign in Mattie Brown Park in Eagle Point

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Jun 05, 2012

Eagle Point, OR—Data from a 2011 Rogue Riverkeeper study released today show that fecal bacteria levels in Little Butte Creek are not improving; they are in fact getting worse. In addition to finding dangerously high bacteria levels in 2011, the data show the amount of bacteria has been steadily increasing since sampling began in 1998.

“We are concerned about unsafe levels of bacteria in Little Butte Creek, but even more alarming is that the pollution trend is worsening rather than improving,” said Forrest English, Water Quality Coordinator with Rogue Riverkeeper. “We need to modernize our irrigation systems and engage in more restoration work if we are to reverse the trend.”

Little Butte Creek is a tributary to the Rogue River and part of the 3.3 million-acre Rogue River watershed.  As per the Clean Water Act, the mainstem of Little Butte Creek and many of its tributaries, including Antelope Creek, Nichols Branch, Salt Creek, Lick Creek, Lake Creek, North Fork Little Butte Creek and South Fork Little Butte Creek, were listed on the State of Oregon’s “water quality impaired” list for fecal bacteria.

Escherichia coli, more commonly known as E. coli, is a fecal coliform bacteria that can pose a health risk to humans, especially the elderly, children and people with compromised immune systems. In addition, high bacteria levels often coincide with other water quality problems like high temperatures and turbidity, which can be harmful to endangered salmon and other fish.

Water quality parameters including E. coli, temperature, conductivity, pH and turbidity were collected by Rogue Riverkeeper staff and SOU student volunteers from June 16 through October 31 at 14 sampling sites throughout the watershed. Based on study results, fecal bacteria reductions of 59% are needed for some parts of Little Butte Creek to be considered healthy while some of the creek's tributaries require 91% reductions.

Little Butte Creek is an important stream for salmon and steelhead and provides recreational opportunities within the town of Eagle Point and Denman Wildlife Area. However, a popular city park is posted year-round with signs that read: “Warning: contaminated water—E. coli/keep out—this creek is not safe—no wading or swimming.”

“Kids should be able to wade and swim in our public waters on a hot summer day without fear of getting sick,” said Lesley Adams, Program Director for Rogue Riverkeeper. “We have a lot of work to do to achieve that goal.”

The report makes several recommendations: 1) modernize irrigation delivery methods; 2) reduce overall withdrawal quantities; 3) protect and restore stream buffers; and 4) implement the WISE project (Water for Irrigation, Streams and Economy).

The 2011 Little Butte Creek Bacteria Study is a collaboration between Rogue Riverkeeper, Southern Oregon University, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the Jackson County Watermaster’s Office and the Medford Water Commission with assistance from the City of Eagle Point. 

Rogue Riverkeeper began a bacteria sourcing program in 2010 to identify the sources of chronic bacteria pollution in the Rogue Basin and advocate for water quality restoration. As Rogue Riverkeeper advocates for the implementation of recommendations in its 2010 and 2011 reports on Ashland and Little Butte Creeks, it is shifting its analysis efforts this year to study chronic bacteria pollution in Evans Creek, which flows into the Rogue River between Medford and Grants Pass.

Progress on bacterial reduction in Ashland Creek is already being reported, thanks in large part to action taken by the City of Ashland.

You can download the entire Little Butte Creek report at

While this project has been a collaborative effort, Rogue Riverkeeper takes full responsibility for the findings and final report.


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