The Center for Lakes and Streams, with funding from the K21 Health Foundation, private donors and Grace College, released the results of a study investigating the causes of elevated E. coli levels at the public swimming beaches at Center and Pike lakes.
A previous study by the center from 2012 showed that the public swimming beaches at Center and Pike lakes had unsafe E. coli levels in 41 percent and 32 percent of samples collected, respectively, over 15 years of sampling by the Kosciusko County Health Department. This prompted the center to establish a study to determine the cause of the elevated E. coli levels.
“One of the priorities of the K21 Health Foundation is to protect human health and one way we can do that is minimizing lake-related health threats,” said foundation president and CEO Rich Haddad.
The study revealed that rain events led to higher E. coli levels, indicating E. coli was washing in from outside of the lakes. This was particularly noticeable where the storm drain flows into Center Lake.
In addition to examining when levels were highest, the center also investigated where levels were highest. The water in the area where the pier meets the beach contained higher levels of E. coli, indicating that stagnant water trapped there acts as a collecting area for E. coli.
Samples were collected to determine which animal species were the likely sources of the E. coli. Gulls were revealed to be the main culprit, particularly at Center Lake.
“While the results are specific to Center and Pike lakes, they have broad implications for protecting other lakes in the region,” said center director Nate Bosch.
The results led the center to recommend some changes at the beaches. For both lakes, it was recommended that piers be improved to allow water to circulate through the piers and prevent E. coli from collecting near them. Both lakes could also benefit from exploring alternative beach raking methods to remove waterfowl waste.