Local News

Birds likely behind frequent Lake Wheeler beach closures

Posted September 1, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT
Updated September 1, 2009 7:23 p.m. EDT

— Wake County environmental officials are asking people not to feed the birds after closing the beach Tuesday at Lake Wheeler for the fifth time this month when elevated bacteria levels were found.

Routine tests showed levels of enterococci bacteria exceeded standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Levels of enterococci should not exceed 60 colony forming units (cfu) per 100 milliliters. Tests Tuesday found 67.7 of enterococci. With prior closures, higher than normal levels of E. coli bacteria have also been found in the water.

Those bacteria can cause infections and lead to diarrhea.

Richard Costello, of the Raleigh Parks and Recreation Department, said Tuesday that bird waste is the primary cause of the high bacteria levels.

It is not against the rules to feed the birds, but Costello is asking people not to do it since it is causing bacteria problems.

“The only way to stop this issue is to stop feeding the geese,” Costello said.

The beach closure bans any activity in which a person's head goes underwater, including kayaking, Sunfish sail boating and wind surfing lessons. The city always prohibits swimming at Lake Wheeler.

“I didn't know that it (Lake Wheeler) had been closed four times. That’s kind of icky,” parent Jennifer McFarland said before the beach was closed again Tuesday.

Fishing, water skiing, tubing and other boat rentals are still permitted. However, boater Ronnie Coats said he thinks the frequent closures are keeping people from partaking in those activities too.

“Every time I come down here, there is generally one boat and me,” Coats said.

The beach will remained closed until bacteria levels meet EPA standards for two straight days.

Costello said frequent rain has also contributed to the problem as more runoff water is making its way into the lake.

To help cut down on excessive bacteria, park officials said they started removing bird waste from the beach instead of pushing it into the water. Officials said they are also looking for ways to move the birds' habitat so fewer of them will call the beach home.