E. coli levels briefly close beach

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WILMINGTON — A public beach on Lake Raponda was temporarily closed for the second time this year.

"Historically, we generally haven't really gotten out of the single digits with E. coli at the beach," Town Health Officer Craig Ohlson said Thursday. "And this year, we've had a couple of spikes. We've had three readings in the triple digits."

One reading — 130 E. coli bacteria per 100 milliliters of water — fell below the Vermont Department of Health's maximum of 235. But Wednesday's reading — 238 E. coli bacteria per 100 mL of water — caused Ohlson to close the beach. It had also been temporarily shut down about a month ago.

At about 4:50 p.m. Thursday, Ohlson was heading down to the beach to reopen it after getting test results back. The water was tested at 108 E. coli bacteria per 100 mL of water.

E. coli is "by far the most common reason" for beach closures, according to the University of Vermont website. The bacteria is found in animal feces and can get into lakes or ponds via stormwater runoff. Swallowing the water can lead to stomach cramps and diarrhea.

Ohlson said a reading last week came up as less than 1 E. coli bacteria per 100 mL of water and he had a reading of 5 the week before. He takes samples to EAI Analytic Labs in Swanzey, N.H. It usually takes about 24 hours to get results.

Beach visitors were more disappointed than upset about the closure in Ohlson's opinion.

"They were happy that I was down there and talked to them and explained it to them," he said. "One family was up from Connecticut and they like Raponda a lot. So they were just more disappointed."

Previously, the beach had been temporarily shut down in the late 1990s for high E. coli levels.

Ohlson said the state increased the E. coli levels within the last few years — going from 75 E. coli bacteria per 100 mL of water to 235. The new figure is the same recommended by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

A sign posted at the beach alerted visitors that Ohlson had "determined that swimming in this area presents a public health risk because of water contaminated by E. coli." He said he wouldn't tell people they cannot sunbathe on the beach.

Kayaking, Ohlson said, is "a gray area because people put in their kayaks from a variety of different places."

On Thursday morning, Ohlson saw people out on paddle boards and kayaks.

"But we can't tell them that they can't use the lake," he said, as it is owned by the state which leaves it up to groups or municipalities monitoring swimming areas whether to shut them down.

The town owns the beach and a boat launch where a greeter will check watercraft for invasive species. Ohlson said he will let the greeter know when he has a high reading but he does not post any signs at the launch.

Ohlson or Wilmington Wastewater Treatment Plant employees test the water on weekly basis. To do so, Ohlson wears waterproof boots and enters a section about 2 to 3 feet deep. When there is a high reading, he is responsible for closing the beach.

"As soon as I close it, I generally test it immediately and then I have to continue doing tests until we get a good one," he said. "I can't open it until I have a reading that's less than 235."

Ohlson also is the town's zoning administrator.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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