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Great Lakes Article:

Ottawa Lake to be monitored for E. coli
By Linda Thoren
Kettle Moraine
April 29, 2004

One area beach will be under closer scrutiny this year because of fears that E. coli will return there. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources officials have decided that Ottawa Lake in the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest will be monitored five days per week for the presence of E. coli bacteria.

Ottawa Lake, located off Highways 67 and ZZ in the town of Ottawa, is a small spring-fed lake spanning an area of 28 square acres. The maximum depth is 16 feet. The lake has a beach, campground and fishing boat launch in the park.

The Ottawa Lake beach has been closed a number of times in past years because tests have detected unsafe levels of coliform bacteria. In July 2003, the beach was closed because one test "came back bad," according to forest superintendent Paul Sandgren.

A subsequent test found no traces of the E. coli bacteria, however.

Sandgren noted, "We have a margin of error to these tests. Most likely, it was just a failure of the test."

According to Sandgren, the decision to monitor Ottawa Lake was not a reflection of the test results.

"It just represents one of the types of beaches we need to monitor," he said.

In a project headed up by Ben Vail, a sociologist with the University of Wisconsin in Madison, 10 Wisconsin lakes will be tested throughout the summer. The lakes represent a cross-section of the many types of inland beaches in Wisconsin, as opposed to coastal beaches.

Coastal beaches are beaches on the Great Lakes where tests have discovered higher than safe levels of E. coli. The Beach Act of 2000 was installed in response to these findings, but authorities were also concerned about the bacteria levels in inland beaches.

Inland beaches are located on inland waters, such as lakes and rivers. Until the inception of this project, the DNR officials monitored the beaches for increased levels of coliform bacteria. But it has since been discovered that testing for E. coli is a better indicator of the presence of other harmful bacteria than the coliform testing.

"We have $106,000 to work with for this project," said Vail. "The money has been gleaned from various sources and we will be sharing it with certain municipalities with inland lakes in their jurisdictions."

One of the goals of the project is to provide a better way to educate the public about possible problems.

"We want the public to know that the E. coli we are testing for is not the strain that you might find in fast food hamburgers. This strain is found in the fecal matter of warm-blooded animals," said Vail.

Ingestion of, or full immersion in, infected water and its contact with mucus membranes such as the nose, can be ways that the harmful bacteria can bring on illness. E. coli exposure will bring on gastrointestinal flu symptoms.

"Diarrhea and stomach pains are the worst-case scenario," said Vail. "I don't know of anyone dying in Wisconsin from E. coli exposure."

The increased levels found in coastal beaches may have something to do with the amount of gull droppings found on the beaches, said Vail.

Ottawa Lake doesn't have gulls, but it does have a large population of geese.

"It has been determined by a UW-Milwaukee professor that gull droppings have 10 times the amount of E. coli as goose droppings have," said Vail. "We can't say with certainty that the increased levels found last year are due to goose droppings."

There are other ways that E. coli and other bacteria and protozoa can enter the water.

"Weather is a factor," said Vail. Other factors include wind direction, water currents, water temperature, the presence of algae, rainfall washes from parking lots, sewage overflow and the waste from boats, among other things.

Anne Bretl teaches swimming lessons at Ottawa Lake every July through the Red Cross and town of Ottawa. The DNR does inform her when harmful bacteria are present, and she, in turn, tells her students that they swim at their own risk.

"The DNR posts signs every day," she said. "We have not had any problems, so far."

Melissa Klein, Ottawa town clerk, said she has not heard of any problems either. "I think the beach was closed due to swimmers' itch," she said of last year's closing.

DNR officials denied that however.

"It was E. coli," said Sandgren.

"I want to emphasize that the efforts of the DNR and Ben Vail's project are happening to keep swimmers safe," said Sandgren.


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