The Oregon Health Authority has been issuing an increased number of fecal bacteria advisories for ocean waters due to recent heavy rainfall.

Fecal bacteria can enter waterways from a variety of sources, like animals, failing septic systems and boating waste.

Heavy rains help to push that waste toward the ocean, said Tara Chetock, program coordinator for the health authority’s Oregon Beach Monitoring Program.

“When we see heavy rains, it washes a lot of bacteria that can be on the ground, on buildings, throughout the watershed. Essentially, the earth is cleaning itself with these heavy downpours,” she said.

Last year, Chetock said, the health authority issued 15 fecal bacteria advisories during its summer monitoring season. This year there have been 20.

“This has been a wetter monitoring season, especially these past few weeks,” she said. “We’ve issued approximately 50% of those 20 advisories in the month of September.”

Even when advisories are in place, the beaches aren’t closed, Chetock said. People can still walk on the beach, fly kites and do other activities. They should just avoid contact with the water.

Even if there aren’t official advisories in effect, people should still use caution around ocean waters after it rains. 

“Whenever it rains, it would be a good idea to avoid water contact for 48 hours, because any rain event is going to flush bacteria into the waterway,” Chetock said.