As more than 200 competitors in the WWA Wakeboard Championships enjoy the Oklahoma River this weekend, city officials are confident the river is clean.
But that could change quickly with a heavy dose of rain.
The river received negative publicity in May when some triathlon swimmers got sick because of high levels of bacteria, including E. coli.
There is little the city’s stormwater quality workers can do to stop bacteria levels from climbing when rainwater brings runoff, including waste from cattle and wildlife.
"It’s hard, because the river is kind of a living being and it changes constantly,” city spokeswoman Kristy Yager said. "It’s impossible to control what happens.”
Concerns about the quality of the riverwater are twofold.
Yager said although city workers can’t do much to control bacteria levels right now, they have stepped up monitoring to see where the problems are coming from, which tributaries are the worst contaminators and when and why bacteria levels spike.
Where city workers and residents have more control is the overall ecological health of the river, which suffers from dumping into stormwater drains.
Yager said chemicals from yard fertilizer, car washing and even backyard pools drained into the street can have consequences.
"The illegal dumping kills fish, frogs, beneficial plants and generally harms the ecology,” Yager said.
Raymond Melton, the city’s environmental protection manager, said he talks to neighborhood groups often and finds most people believe stormwater is treated before it goes into local creeks that run into the city’s four drainage basins, one of which is the Oklahoma River.