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HANFORD — An upstream sewage spill is having little effect on local stretches of the Kings River, which are contaminated anyway, health officials said Thursday.

They conducted tests Wednesday on Kings County stretches of the river and found levels of coliform bacteria that are normally present in the river from treated sewage, animal waste and other contamination sources, according to Keith Winkler, Kings County Public Health Department director.

“So far, it’s nothing we wouldn’t expect to find in the river,” Winkler said. “The impact is really negligible.”

Concerns were raised after a malfunction Monday night at the Reedley wastewater treatment plant reportedly caused 15,000 gallons of untreated waste to be dumped into the Kings River over several hours stretching into Tuesday morning.

Neighboring Tulare County posted warnings at recreation spots along the banks. Kings County officials didn’t immediately issue a warning, noting that there is no public river access on the Kings County shore.

The sewage spill was equivalent to how much water flows out of Pine Flat Dam every half second, Winkler said.

“The dilution factor is enormous,” he said.

That means floaters putting their rafts in the water under the Highway 43 bridge face the same water they always face.

 Late Thursday it was announced that the Tulare County Public Health Laboratory had determined that the river was safe to swim in there after lab samples were found to be under the threshold set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for recreational water.

Tulare County staff is in the process of removing warning postings from along the river.

Some tips from Winkler about swimming in the river:

• Don’t swallow water from the river. It’s probably not a good idea to submerge your face in the water, either.

• Don’t go in the river if you have open wounds or cuts. Contamination can cause infections.

Winkler offered a reminder that river water, unlike swimming pools, isn’t chlorinated, so you take your chances when you get in.

“It’s up to individuals [to decide],” he said. “The water is untreated.”

The reporter can be reached at 583-2432 or

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