Lack of water testing turns a triathlon into a duathlon

This week's entry is from Spyglass CEO, Chris Melançon


"It is with great disappointment that we have to cancel the swim for Sunday's Sprint and Olympic Distance races."  This message came to me the day before I was scheduled to compete in the San Jose Metro Triathlon last month.  The race director stated that they were canceling the swim because the water conditions did not meet the requirements needed to allow swimming by the State of California's Department of Health standards.  The organizers of the race believed that this was the best course of action because they could not subject the athletes to water conditions that are potentially detrimental to public health.

The race organizers found out about the failed test results at approximately 4:55pm on the Friday afternoon before the Sunday race.  At that point, they had exhausted all appeal processes and interacted with every level of local government to no avail.  The city first tested the water April 11th and informed the race director that the water passed successfully.  The city, however, could not accept the test report because it was more than 10 days out from race day. The city tested the water again on April 13th and April 17th and informed the race director that there was the potential for a water quality problem on Wednesday April 18th at 6:03pm.

The city told us they were testing the water again on April 19th, and they would know those results by 12pm April 20th.  The results of those tests showed major improvement, and while the E. coli levels were normal, the total coliform levels were still slightly elevated. The water quality reports were made available on the race website.  Because each test showed major improvement and because there was a major storm run-off in the Bay Area on April 12th, the race organizers believed the water bacteria level would without question normalize by Sunday, race day.

The race organizers requested that the city test the water once more on Friday and Saturday and offered to pay for the tests. The City of San Jose said its lab could not staff the weekend testing because of travel schedules.  The organizers then hired their own independent third-party sample collection agency and testing lab that is certified by Santa Clara County and the State of California to do potable water testing. The organizer's plan was to test the water with the hope that they could demonstrate the normalized water bacteria levels were within an acceptable range and ask the City of San Jose to sign off on allowing the swim to take place.

Unfortunately, after getting the City Councils Office, the Director of Parks, and the City Attorney involved the race organizers were told that even if the water tests came back favorable the city could not accept the test from the lab.  The race would have to become a duathlon with only running and biking as part of the competition.

In this instance, the lack of real-time water quality testing affected the race plans of a few thousand triathletes.  Poor water quality causes the closure of more than 24,000 beach closures each year according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and affects the lives and local economies of millions of people. You can find out the health of your beach by clicking here.

At Spyglass, our mission is to minimize the impact of these waterborne pathogens through rapid, accurate detection. Spyglass strives to enable water resource managers and researchers in assessing the public exposure risk to harmful microbes and toxins. With early detection, health can be safeguarded and...races can go on.

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