Ottawa Lake to be monitored for E.
By Linda Thoren
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 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,
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
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
"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.