E. coli advisories issued for 2 Utah County ponds, but people aren’t seeing the signs

Aug 9, 2023, 6:38 PM | Updated: 7:35 pm

PLEASANT GROVE, Utah — Families say poor signage is not giving swimmers the warning they need to stay safe at a popular Utah County pond that recently tested for high levels of E. coli.

Manila Creek Pond is now one of two ponds in the area not safe to swim in, yet families are still flocking there for summer fun unaware of the dangers.

That’s because the few signs posted are in hard-to-see spots that most people are passing by without seeing.

The other area with an advisory is Highland Glen Pond in Highland.

Wednesday afternoon, moms like Erin Zacharias cooled off with her kids in the water at the Pleasant Grove swimming hole. She and the kids were only going ankle-deep at the time, but others were floating away from the beach on tubes and splashing around.

Many parents, including Zacharias, also had snacks sitting out in their picnic areas, ready for when the kids took breaks in the shade.

The mom, who lives in American Fork, didn’t realize swimming then snacking could put her kids in a crappy situation later.

“At first I was a little shocked, because I didn’t see any signs for E. coli. And there are lots of people here already,” Zacharias said.

She explained that she’s used to checking for signs for algal blooms at Manila Creek Pond. Seeing none, they just went in the water.

However, the Utah County Health Department had just issued a health advisory for Manila Creek Pond two days prior. The department posted four small signs around the pond, two in a parking area along rocks and two near the beach facing backwards behind other signs.

Kids swim and splash, with many families unaware that there’s a health advisory at Manila Creek Pond (KSL TV)

The advisory came after the Utah Department of Environmental Quality found elevated levels of E. coli, which Dr. Hannah Bonner explained “is a bacteria that indicates fecal contamination– so basically poop contamination in the water.”

Dr. Bonner, environmental scientist with the Utah Division of Water Quality within the DEQ, talked about how that means ingesting the water– say, if you dunk your head under, or swim then eat without washing your hands– could make you sick.

“The most common symptom of exposure to waterborne pathogens or high E. coli is gastrointestinal illness. So, things like vomiting, diarrhea, stomachache,” Dr. Bonner explained. “And then, the more extreme end is you get a parasite or something like giardia, where you have really severe gastrointestinal illness that can last days or weeks.”

Dr. Bonner said that doesn’t mean people can’t enjoy recreation at all, they just need to be aware and take precautions.

“It just means you should be cautious in how you recreate. So, activities that wouldn’t lead to accidentally getting that water in your body are still okay,” she said. “Kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding– that’s alright.”

They’ve been seeing the same poopy pond problem at Highland Glen in Highland nearby for months, where signs dot the beach area, and a huge banner warns swimmers.

On Wednesday afternoon, way less people were swimming and hanging out than at Manila Creek Pond.

At Manila Creek Pond, one wouldn’t even see the signs unless they were looking for them.

It’s hard to spot the E. coli warning sign, which is posted on the back of other signs at Manila Creek Pond (KSL TV)

Zacharias, after learning of the E. coli advisory, walked around to try to hunt the signs down.

She finally found one, in an inconspicuous spot on a pole with several other signs that someone wouldn’t see unless they were walking away after a day on the water.

“It’s basically hidden behind all their other signs, so you can’t even see it until you get close by,” Zacharias pointed out.

Now she knows to be careful with her kids.

“There’s no swimming, drinking the water, or wading in the water,” Zacharias said, reading the sign then looking nervously over at all the kids splashing around. “So, hopefully all the other children who are in the water don’t get sick.”

The Utah County Health Department said they are looking at putting out more signs, in an effort to warn families to proceed with caution.

Recreationists can find information here on Highland Glen Reservoir and here on Manila Creek Pond.

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E. coli advisories issued for 2 Utah County ponds, but people aren’t seeing the signs