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A flock of problems

  • JORDAN REABOLD/TIMES NEWS The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources suspects that geese may be the cause of high bacteria counts in the lake's waters.
    JORDAN REABOLD/TIMES NEWS The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources suspects that geese may be the cause of high bacteria counts in the lake's waters.
Published July 17. 2014 04:00PM

For the fifth time this summer, Beltzville State Park closed its beach due to a water sample that showed high bacteria counts and poop from molting geese could be to blame.

Terry Brady, deputy press secretary for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said that nobody can be sure about the cause of high bacteria levels.

Facebook posts have said people using the park were to blame, but Brady said that is not the case.

Because the park has been opening and closing since the start of the summer, fewer people are swimming in the lake, and still, bacteria counts are in the higher range.

"There's no massive turnout, but the water's results are still high," Brady said.

He noted that the park closed just about two times last summer, adding, "Certainly there is something going on there that wasn't going on last year."

He said the Bureau of State Parks is investigating the abundance of geese around the park.

From mid-June through August, geese shed their outer wing feathers and regrow new ones, called molting.

During this period, they do not fly, and tend to gather around lakes or ponds where they are safe from most predators.

These large flocks overgraze on nearby food sources, causing an excess in excrement, which can wash into the water after heavy rainfall.

This is precisely what DCNR believes is occurring at Beltzville State Park.

When the rain is followed by hot and sunny weather, the water's temperature rises, also contributing to a change in its nutrients.

Previously, the park handled the issue by frequently removing the excrement from the beach and encouraging waterfowl hunting at the legal times.

"We're moving toward intensive management," Brady said.

Recently, reflective tape has been put along the water's edge to keep geese away from the bathingarea.

Reflective tape is often used as a safe, nontoxic way to deter birds from a particular area and has been effective so far, according to Brady.

The option of putting a fence around the area was also considered, but would be costly and not aesthetically pleasing.

It is possible that we will never know the true cause of the lake's bacteria counts.

Brady said in 2011 six people became sick due to an E. coli outbreak at Cowans Gap Lake in Fulton County.

The park was closed in late July and did not open for the rest of the summer.

Despite extensive research, the cause of the outbreak was never determined.

Brady said that Beltzville's bacteria count has not been extremely high, but it's high enough to take the necessary precautions and close the beach.

Basically, the lake water is tested with a 100 milliliter sample from the swimming area.

When the sample shows a count of more than 1,000 colony-forming units, the water is considered unsafe for swimming.

The testing is done privately by Beltzville State Park.

The beach closing was effective Wednesday, based on Monday's test result.

It will reopen whenlevels are considerednormal, which should be determined by Friday.

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