UACES Facebook Stay out of the water: Floods can carry debris, disease
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Stay out of the water: Floods can carry debris, disease

May 28, 2019 

By Mary Hightower
U of A System Division of Agriculture

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LITTLE ROCK – Floods carry more danger than just high water volume and fast flow: debris and disease-causing bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella may be part of the mix too. 

 floodwater near a dam

Debris is clearly visible in this video of the Arkansas River at Dardanelle

Images on social media show floodwater carrying rafts of debris such as branches and litter. One photo on Twitter showed a syringe washing ashore amid pieces of flotsam and jetsam. In addition, some municipal sewage treatment systems may had have parts swamped by floodwaters.

“Flooding can cause sewage systems to overflow, releasing pathogenic bacteria,” said Mike Daniels, professor-water quality for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “Floodwaters can also interact with animal wastes and transport pathogens too.”

John Pennington, extension urban stormwater agent for the Division of Agriculture in Jefferson County, said flooded areas need to be approached with a high level of caution.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration “bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Shigella, and viruses like Hepatitis A, tetanus, and agents of typhoid can all be carried in flood water,” Pennington said. “Workers in flood water need to make sure they don’t enter flood water if they have broken skin. If they are entering a potentially contaminated area, workers should put on rubber gloves, boots, waders and other protective clothing to prevent contact with floodwaters.”  

Flooding can also compromise well water.

“If a wellhead has been submerged by flood waters, it is highly probable that contamination has occurred, but if flooding has occurred nearby, then it is a good idea to have the water supply tested to assure the water quality is still safe for humans and livestock,” said Daniels. “If there’s any doubt about whether the quality of a water supply, have it checked.”

The Cooperative Extension Service has a fact sheet on what to do if flooding affects a well, including corrective actions:

Water Testing

The Arkansas Water Resources Center can conduct water testing. To find out how to collect a sample, see:

Find other flood resources here:

About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.

The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on four system campuses.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.


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Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A System Division of Agriculture
(501) 671-2126

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