SV student checks river for contaminants
by Peter Burke | Press Banner
Dec 19, 2008 | 259 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print

One summer afternoon, Scotts Valley High senior Ben Hillan stepped on a wire coming up from the sand at Blacks Beach in Santa Cruz. The wire punctured his foot, which began bleeding.

After some digging, it turned out the wire was a buried umbrella poking up from the sand near where Hillan was riding his skim board at the water’s edge.

“I spend my whole summers on the beach, and I hate it when I see litter out there,” Hillan said.

The experience got him interested in water pollution and bringing awareness to how it can be dangerous to humans. 

Hillan now volunteers as a water-sample collector for the Santa Cruz Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. He gathers water at a few locations along the coast every week or two and tests the samples for bacteria, determining which areas are safe for swimmers and which aren’t.

During the summer, Hillan and fellow Scotts Valley High student Kurt Selander performed their own study of the San Lorenzo River.

They took water samples from 10 locations along the San Lorenzo River, including at Junction Park in Boulder Creek, near the Ben Lomond Transfer Station, in Brookdale, in Felton and at the river mouth in Santa Cruz.

Hillan and Selander found the highest concentration of E. coli bacteria and enterococcus, a bacteria found in feces, at the San Lorenzo Valley River mouth next to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

The duo published their results on their Web site,

They plan to take a second sampling this winter to see how the bacteria levels differ according to season.

Hillan says that people can be blamed for the high pollution levels in the river and ocean.

“It’s more influence of humans than anything else,” he said.

Hillan, who plans to study marine biology in college, encourages people to throw their trash in the garbage instead of littering and to take measures to keep pollution out of the water.

“I just want people to be more aware,” said Hillan. “You can’t do anything if nobody knows about it.”

Santa Cruz County Environmental Health Services offers weekly water quality reports on its Web site and by calling 454-3188. The Santa Cruz Surfrider Foundation publishes water quality reports as well at 

To comment on this story, e-mail reporter Peter Burke at, call 438-2500 or post a comment at

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