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Sunapee Lake latest NH beach impacted by bacteria; cleared for swimming Tues.

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 05. 2014 8:42PM
A lifeguard is back on duty at Pawtuckaway State Park in Nottingham on Tuesday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

Sunapee Lake was cleared for swimming Tuesday after samples showed an abrupt drop in the high bacteria levels of last week, which had prompted parks officials to warn against swimming there.

On Saturday, officials posted advisories at the Mount Sunapee State Park beach after one of three samples showed high levels of fecal coliform bacteria. It was the first time in eight years that do-not swim advisories were posted at the beach.

It’s questionable, though, how dangerous the water really was.

The state standard for bacterial contamination is 88 counts of E. coli per 100 milliliters of water, nearly three times lower than the EPA recommended level of 235 counts per 100 ml, said Sonya Carlson, beach program coordinator for the state Department of Environmental Services.

The highest level of bacteria measured at Sunapee beach last week was 220 counts per 100 ml.

Although the state puts up advisories when bacterial levels exceed state standards, no one can stop someone from swimming at the beaches, Carlson said.

“They don’t close,” Carlson said. “This is New Hampshire, live free or die.”

Pawtuckaway problems

She cautioned that other beaches have persistent problems and experience far dirtier water.

Earlier this year, one measurement at Pawtuckaway State Park beach exceeded 2,000 counts per 100 ml.

“I don’t think they (Sunapee) have a chronic problem,” Carlson said. “It wasn’t like the poster child of bad — Pawtuckaway State Park.”

Although levels at Pawtuckaway — one of the closest freshwater beaches to Manchester — were safe as of last Friday, the beach has been under advisory three times this season. The most recent covered the last two weeks of July.

Carlson expects that Sunapee water was dirtied by ducks. Pawtuckaway has problems with resident geese and a nearby beaver pond.

On Sunday, the head of state parks, Philip Bryce, said this was a tough year for bacterial levels at state beaches. Carlson said the number of beach advisories for the summer so far is 45, compared to an average of 42 at July’s end.

Last year, however, it was 60 at this point in the summer. She said she suspects last year’s numbers were high because of frequent rainstorms. Rain tends to wash fecal matter, such as bird waste, into lakes.

Dogs as deterrents

Carlson said water fowl are to blame for most bacterial contaminations, and getting rid of water fowl would be the first step to raising the water quality of beaches with persistent problems.

Some beaches allow dogs to chase the fowl. Others apply grape seed oil to grass, which Canada geese don’t like.

Instances of contamination of blue-green algae, which is more serious than bacteria, totaled four so far this year. The average for a year is five, she said.

Carlson said two samples taken last week at Sunapee were below the state level of 88 per 100 ml. But the left beach sample tested 220, which prompted the advisories to be posted.

The sample taken Monday at the same spot registered below 2.

Carlson said the tough state standards for beach water were adopted in 2000. She said the EPA standard translates into an acceptable level of eight post-swimming sicknesses per 1,000 people.

The state level translates into a rate that is half the frequency of the EPA standard.

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