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Health

Erie's Presque Isle Beach seeing high E.coli counts

| Monday, Aug. 13, 2018, 2:21 p.m.
High E.coli counts have closed beaches at Presque Isle State Park in Erie. Shown is the 2017 sand sculpture competition on Beach 11 at the park.
High E.coli counts have closed beaches at Presque Isle State Park in Erie. Shown is the 2017 sand sculpture competition on Beach 11 at the park.

Matt Greene knows Presque Isle State Park’s Beach 11 is one of the peninsula’s most popular family-friendly summer spots.

With its new playground and adjacent pavilions, Erie families flock there on hot summer days.

“It’s a great spot for families because of its location,” said Greene, park operations manager. “It’s protected from winds from the west and north, so you have little to no wave action. It’s wonderful for younger kids because of that.”

This year, the beach has been plagued with swimming restrictions and advisories because of high E.coli bacteria counts, making it unsafe for swimming at times.

A swimming restriction was issued Aug. 6 and remained in place through Aug. 12 at the beach. Retesting was scheduled for that day or Aug. 13.

Beach 11 previously had a swimming restriction posted July 31 through Aug. 1 and it has had several swimming advisories — including one that was in place for nearly two weeks — since beaches at the park opened for swimming for the season May 25.

Why so high?

Why are the E.coli counts elevated at that beach? Greene said he believes it’s mix of location, weather and wildlife.

Beach 11’s location makes it difficult for water currents to flush bacteria from the water, Greene said. The beach is protected from winds, and because of that the water stagnates easily, which causes bacteria to pool.

In addition, flocks of Canada geese have called Beach 11 home this year.

“We are one of the best places in the world for migratory birds, so sometimes we’ll see that,” Greene said. “We’ve noticed bigger flocks specifically on Beach 11 this year.”

Though the wildlife is nice to see, the droppings created by the flocks of waterfowl can cause E.coli levels to skyrocket.

Then higher temperatures — like the string of 80-degree days we just had — further encourage greater bacteria growth, Greene said.

Swimming restrictions are issued based on a measure of E.coli levels from the past 30 days, Greene said. If the average E.coli sample levels over the past 30 days exceed 126 parts per million at a specific beach, that beach is issued a swimming restriction.

Wind and water

“Children are sometimes playing right at the shoreline, sitting down in the water. They tend to pick things up and put it in their mouth or on their face,” Tobin said. “We often see children are exposed more easily to E.coli.”

Greene said he is hopeful the situation will be resolved by the end of summer. A change in wind direction or water patterns could flush the area just off the beach, he said.

However, because the restriction is based on the average of the past 30 days, it’s not very likely the restrictions will be lifted anytime soon.

The Erie County Department of Health and the Regional Science Consortium at Presque Isle post updated beach water sampling results on their websites, eriecountypa.gov and regsciconsort.com.

Advisories and restriction notifications also are published at goerie.com and on signs at the park entrance.

Sarah Grabski is a writer for the Erie Times-News.

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