Are there high bacteria levels in our local recreational waters?
People in the Piedmont of North Carolina often swim and play in the recreational waters in the area. These waters all have public access and are surrounded by wild life. As our communities grow, there are more factors that cause water quality issues for the lakes and rivers that we use for play. Unsafe levels of bacteria in our recreational waters can create conditions that may lead to mild sicknesses or even deadly diseases. Some of the common recreational water illnesses(RWIs) created by the bacteria found in our waters include infections of the eyes, ears, skin, lungs, wounds and diarrhea. More serious illnesses such as typhoid, cholera and enteric fever can also be caused by bacteria in recreational waters. Regular testing of these waters help us to prevent outbreak of these illnesses. I chose Belews Lake, High Rock Lake, Salem Lake and the Yadkin River for testing in my project. I expected to find that all of these waters would be found to be at safe bacteria levels.
I researched information about bacteria levels in recreational waters all over the U.S. to see how they vary and so I would know what to expect with my bacteria levels in my test results. In order to better understand this subject, I also read articles from governmental agencies and environmental organizations about bacteria levels and testing of local recreational waters. E. coli is a common bacteria found and is caused by the presence of fecal matter in the water. I developed a questionnaire to be used to interview Mr. Corey Basinger, with the NC Department of Environmental and Natural Resources and an authority on our local waters. I learned a great deal from Mr. Basinger about our local waters and how they test them. The NC Department of Environmental and Natural Resources tests our local recreational waters once a month unless there have been extreme differences in the bacteria levels. According to Mr. Basinger, wild life and livestock tends to be a major factor causing increases and decreases in bacteria the local waters. Wildlife using the bathroom in the water, discharges from waste water treatment plants, storm water, meat and any other food are causes of bacteria in the local waters. Natural disasters such as Super Storm Sandy can also cause bacteria levels to rise with increased runoff and failure and overflow of water treatment systems. Some local waters have been closed to the public previously due to unleveled bacteria levels. High bacteria levels can be a concern because it can effect human health, aquatic life health and other parts of our environment. Even though temperature does not cause change in bacteria levels, animals and humans are more active and in and around the waters when it is warm. Mr. Basinger said that the bacteria levels at High Rock lake were usually higher due to the wildlife and livestock in the area.
The average low for bacteria levels are 200 CFUs(colony forming units) and 475 CFUs as a maximum in our local waters. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the maximum allowable level of E. coli moderate swimming areas is 298 CFU. The waters I tested are considered as class C, which has Swamp Waters, Trout Waters, High Quality Waters, Outstanding Resource Waters and Nutrient Sensitive Waters. It is acceptable to build anything close to or next to a class C body of water. This can create possible hazards close by our recreational waters.
For the purpose of testing the water, I chose to use both the Easygel Total Scan test and the Easygel Coliscan test. The Total Scan test measures all forms of bacteria present in the water. The Coliscan test measures E. coli bacteria. These tests included sanitary pipettes for water collection and measurement, Easygel treated petri dishes, sterilized test tubes and the Easygel testing liquids for each test.
In order to conduct my test, I collected