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Counties test lakes for bacteria, decide closures

Posted June 6, 2011
Updated June 9, 2011

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— The hot weather has many people visiting beaches at state parks, like Falls Lake in Wake County. But how safe is it to swim in these lakes?

Wake County spends more than $10,000 a year testing water for E.Coli and Entercocci at Falls Lake beaches, officials said.

Wake County environmental health specialist Kathryn Hobby said both types of bacteria are from “warm-blooded animals’ guts.” Storm runoff washes the bacteria from animal and human waste into the lake.

When the county detects too much bacteria in the water, it shuts down beaches to swimmers.

State regulations say nothing about closing recreational beaches due to bacteria contamination. It is up to each county and municipality to make up its own rules about closures.

Durham County officials said the county is developing a testing program for the beach at Rollingview. Chatham County said it tests for bacteria at Jordan Lake.

Despite fecal bacteria threats, Hobby said Falls Lake is safe for swimmers.

“The bacteria are naturally occurring. You cannot find a fresh body of water that does not have them,” Hobby said.

Monica Foley brings her children to Falls Lake weekly. Recently, Foley’s daughter developed a rash after swimming there.

“She had a rash that was solely under her bathing suit,” Foley said.

The doctor didn't know what caused the rash but told Foley to report it to the county.

Wake County environmental health specialist Kathryn Hobby Counties test lakes for bacteria, decide closures

Foley said despite her daughter's rash, the threat of bacteria won't keep her family out of the water.

“We've never been sick otherwise. Nobody's ever had any G.I. (gastrointestinal) problems we've associated with being at the lake, so we really don't worry too much about it,” Foley said.

As a way to protect swimmers from bacteria, experts suggest not drinking lake water, washing hands before touching food and keeping a close eye on children wearing diapers when they swim.


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