Public beach access closings in the Raleigh area are up five fold this year. City officials closed the beach area at Lake Wheeler again last week. High bacteria levels at Sandling and Beaverdam beaches and the YMCA’s Camp Kanata have also closed those beaches this summer.
High levels of Enterococci bacteria have caused concern for public safety. The City of Raleigh, in conjunction with the Wake County Public Utilities department, will continue to test the waters daily until the bacteria swells recede. Until testing determines a safe level of bacteria, the beach area will be closed. Area lakes are typically tested weekly.
The beach at lake Wheeler was re-opened August 8, after being closed August 4, only to be closed again August 11.
Melinda Clark, the stormwater programs manager with Wake County, said the high levels of bacteria are probably coming from “waste spills and stormwater runoff.”
Recent heavy rains have increased the level of stormwater runoff, according to Mitch Woodward, an area environmental agent with NC Cooperative Extension.
The waters tested at Sandling beach, Beaverdam beach, Camp Kanata, and Lake Wheeler have caused ten temporary closings throughout the summer. Last year, only Beaverdam and the Holly Point area were closed for a few days.
Testing showed 648.8 colony forming units (cfu) of Enterococci at Lake Wheeler on August 10th. The highest level accepted is 61 cfu, in accordance with Wake County code. Enterococcus is a bacteria that is normally found in the intestines and in fecal matter of humans and animals. Exposure can cause urinary tract infections, wound infections, meningitis, and pelvic infections.
“These storms come fast, hit hard, and wash everything down,” Woodward said. Water would typically filter through the soil, he said, but “if we get a real gullywasher, it’s not as effective.” He said construction and pavement contribute to excess unfiltered stormwater. “These summer downpours and rains we’ve gotten this summer cause more stormwater runoff… and that water is finding the quickest path to our rivers, streams, lakes. It’s going to carry with it whatever is in it’s path.”
Runoff carries contaminates such as “horse, goose, and human fecal matter, cow manure, and fertilizer,” Clark said.
Pets are a concern, according to Woodward: “one bit of dog waste can contain millions, if not billions of bacteria.” With many people taking their pets to the lake, the contaminates are easily washed into the water. “If we are focusing on what residents can do, (they can) take responsibility and clean up after their pets,” Woodward suggested. He also said it is common for failing septic systems to leak into the water, as well as “dumpster juice” from leaky garbage cans.
Stormwater is the top source of water pollution in the nation, according to the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Raleigh is one of 123 cities in North Carolina designated as a “Phase II” city by the EPA, which, as a continuation of the Clean Water Act, requires cities to monitor and control water pollution.
Lake Wheeler continues to be open for all activities except for kayaking, sunfish rentals, and wind-surfing lessons.
Beach closings this summer:
- August 11, 648.8 Enterococci
- August 4, 325.5 E. Coli, 66.3 Enterococci
- June 8, 149.3 Enterococci
- June 29, 547.5 E. Coli
- July 6, 135.4 Enterococci
- July 20, 190.4 Enterococci
- May 20, 84.2 Enterococci
- July 6, 108.6 Enterococci
- May 20, 2419.6 E. Coli, 127.4 Enterococci
- July 6, 120.1 Enterococci