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Pollution at Lake Wheeler Not Necessarily a People Problem

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A recreation area looks inviting to would-be swimmers.
RALEIGH — Lake Wheeler is a secondary drinking water supply for Raleigh, so city officials have to maintain the water quality. They say the no-swimming policy is in place because people create more pollution than engines.

On a busy day, thousands of people launch power boats and jet skis at Lake Wheeler. The city just spent more than a million dollars to build a waterfront recreation center and create a public beach. You can get in the water briefly, while you ski or jet ski. But you aren't allowed to swim.

That doesn't make sense to some visitors, who suspect engines are bigger polluters than people.

"When you consider the gas and oil they're putting into the lake, and here you're just asking for people to have a chance to swim," Dennis Pahl says.

City officials say the popular park would be bombarded with people if they opened it for swimming. That could raise bacteria to dangerously high levels.

"What we're concerned with is the people who come out here to swim," says Lake Wheeler director Ben Herrmann. "Specifically 'cause the longer they stay in the water, the longer things happen like people urinating in the water, and things along this line, which pollute the water."

A demonstration illustrates how unburned gasoline and fuel pass from a jet ski's exhaust system right into the water. In two hours, an engine will create as much pollution as a new car driven 135,000 miles.

Still, park officials says it's easier to clean up that kind of mess than the kind people leave behind.

"It's easier to take petroleum-based products from the water as it is to take human fecal chloroform levels out," Herrmann explains.

You can't swim at any of the lakes within the city of Raleigh. If you want to take a dip, you'll have to go to one of the city pools or state parks.

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Stephanie Hawco, Reporter
Greg Clark, Photographer
Kerrie Hudzinski, Web Editor

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