Clara Clothiaux, “E. coli Lady,” Retires

Dr. Clara Clothiaux, the “E. coli Lady,” Save Our Saugahatchee member, retired school teacher, and long-time dedicated AWW Volunteer Monitor has officially retired from water monitoring, during the week of her 85th birthday! We want to take a look back at Clara’s monitoring success stories and her amazing dedication to protecting Alabama’s waters!

Clara (far right) on her 85th Birthday, with Mona Dominguez, Rachel McGuire, and SOS member Carolyn Carr.

Clara is a retired school teacher from Auburn City Schools and has nearly 40 years of experience teaching math and sciences. She shared her experience with teaching in her book, From the Trenches: Practical Experience in Secondary Education, published in 2014. Clara’s author biography mentions that she has won Auburn City School’s Teacher of the Year Award, the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics Teaching, and the Delta Kappa Gamma Excellence in Teaching Award. It’s safe to say that Clara is very accomplished, not only in her teaching career but in her environmental stewardship and advocacy.

Clara shares her monitoring success stories with a group of students.

Clara was first certified as an AWW Volunteer Monitor in 2006. Since then, she has collected nearly 400 bacteria data records. During her monitoring career, Clara has monitored 27 sites for bacteria spanning across the Moores Mill Creek, Parkerson Mill Creek, Pepperell Branch, Saugahatchee Creek, Silver Creek, Chewacla Creek, and Town Creek watersheds. This is how she earned the title “Bacteria Lady!”

Clara (far right) participates in a stream clean up.

Click here to view a video of Clara telling her bacteriological monitoring success stories!

In September 2007, Clara, as part of Save Our Saugahatchee’s (SOS) monitoring efforts, was featured in the American Water Resources Association’s bi-monthly news magazine, Water Resources Impact, in an article written by Dr. Bill Deutsch.

You can read the full Impact article here.

Bill recalls Clara’s monitoring efforts in the article: ” A retired school teacher began [bacteriological] monitoring at multiple sites, particularly city parks that had streams flowing through them. She measured high levels of E. coli at a city park in Auburn, Alabama, that is a popular playground area for local children. Investigations in the upstream watershed revealed an underground sewer leak oozing from a suburban roadside slope, flowing into the stream that drained to the city park. Bacteria testing verified that this water was indeed highly contaminated. Armed with the E. coli data, the citizen monitor contacted local city authorities, who were pleased with the citizen monitor effort in detecting and sourcing the contamination. The city promptly fixed the sewer leak, which resolved the bacteria contamination in the city park downstream.”

This graph shows high counts for E. coli from Clara’s data from Felton Little Park in Auburn from 2006-2008

Clara has been monitoring the Chewacla Swim Beach every summer since 2006 and has caught several bacterial issues with the site. In summer 2017, the beach had to close because of bacterial contamination that Clara caught with her testing!

Clara caught bacterial contamination at the Chewacla Swim Beach in July 2017. Nearly 2000 E. coli per 100 mL detected! Gross!

Former AWW Director Eric Reutebuch reflects on moments with Clara, recalling that she modified her toaster oven to make a hi-tech bacteriological incubator and often purchased her own bacteriological monitoring supplies to save SOS funds for other monitors.

Clara was featured in Eric’s  AWWareness blog post about AWW’s 25th year:

“Monitors have had multitudes of positive local impacts in municipalities across Alabama; examples include: sleuthing out sewage contamination with local municipal officials in many towns and cities; monitoring of public swimming areas at municipal parks and state parks. Save Our Saugahatchee (SOS) volunteer monitor, Clara Clothiaux, is pictured above testing a stream in the Auburn area.”

Clara samples with the City of Auburn.

Long-time Save Our Saugahatchee member Dr. Cliff Webber comments on Clara’s dedicated participation in SOS and bacteria monitoring:

“Data collected from S.O.S. “bacterial blitzes” in the metropolitan area are shared with city and county officials.  On several occasions since 2007, when unsafe E. coli counts have been detected, the cities responded to determine the source contamination.  One S.O.S. member, Clara Clothiaux, has earned a reputation as the “E. coli Lady” through her diligence in regular bacterial monitoring.  She monitors at several sites over and beyond the group “blitzes”.  These extra samples are funded out her own pocket.  Clara now requests that family members give her money at Christmas instead of gifts; then she buys bacterial supplies for her sampling! “

Clara pictured with SOS member Cliff Webber at her retirement celebration.

Thank you, Clara, for your years of dedication to Save Our Saugahatchee, Alabama Water Watch, and keeping Alabama’s waters clean! Your work is appreciated, and we wish you all the best in your feature endeavors!