For Immediate Release
June 14, 2011

KDHE Office of Communications
communications@kdheks.gov, 785-296-0461

KDHE Issues Stream Advisory for All Portions of the Missouri River

Topeka—In response to recent and anticipated flooding events, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) is issuing a health advisory for all portions of the Missouri River in Kansas. In addition to the physical dangers associated with entering swift moving floodwaters, the potential for high levels of pathogens in the Missouri River exists. Pathogens can cause illness in humans and animals.

Floodwaters carry pathogens from surface runoff as well as from partially treated sewage.  At flood levels, wastewater treatment systems in low lying areas are prone to flooding. Once flooded, wastewater systems are compromised and pathogens can escape to the surrounding floodwaters and carried downstream. 

The potential for pathogens to cause illness is often measured by an indicator bacterium called E. coli. It should be noted that all rivers contain bacteria. Some bacteria are naturally occurring while others can be illness-causing or indicative of other illness causing pathogens such as viruses and protozoa. These illnesses can cause a variety of symptoms including skin, ear, respiratory, eye, wound infections and diarrhea.  

KDHE anticipates elevated levels of pathogens in the Missouri River as a result of potential sewage bypasses in Kansas and upstream of Kansas. Individuals are advised to avoid contact with the River and to restrict pets and livestock from contact with River water until the flooding conditions cease. It is predicted floodwaters may not recede for several weeks, thus it is important to avoid contact with the River until this advisory is lifted.

KDHE personnel are in contact with wastewater utilities in Kansas and are evaluating the extent of any bypassing. KDHE has also notified downstream water suppliers of the potential bypassing. 

Dangers of Flood Water

Flood waters contain visible and hidden dangers. If you encounter flood waters, the best way to stay safe is to stay out of the water. In addition to pathogens, or infectious organisms, here are dangers that flood waters bring:

Rapid Current:  The National Weather Service states that simply six inches of fast-moving water can knock you off your feet. Two feet of fast-moving water will sweep cars away. Flowing water is often moving faster than you realize. Murky flood water hides multiple hazards underfoot, one false step and you can be swept away and drown. Never let children play in flood water.

Debris:  Rushing flood waters pick up everything: tree branches, lumber, furniture, propane tanks, even houses. These heavy items develop incredible force when pushed by rapidly moving water. Colliding with this type of heavy debris can cause serious injuries or death.

Chemicals:  Flood waters and may contain any variety of contaminants including, fertilizer, and pesticides, industrial chemicals, toxic wastes, paint, oil, fuel, gasoline, human and animal waste.

Shock hazards:  Flood water can be charged with electricity from underground or downed power lines. Wading in water around buildings where the electricity is still on can lead to electrocution.

Infectious organisms: Flood water may contain E. Coli, Salmonella, Shigella, Hepatitis A Virus, and Typhoid. Flood water additionally attracts mosquitoes which can breed and spread disease.

If you live in an area prone to flooding, pay attention to local forecasts and advisories or warnings have an evacuation plan and move to higher ground before the water rises. Contact your local law enforcement and health department officials for up-to-date instructions in your area.