City officials: Water at Lake Jackson OK

Published 12:00am Friday, July 4, 2014

Just more than a week after high levels of E. coli were found at one spot on Lake Jackson in Florala, city officials say everything is fine with the waters.

Last week, Michael Mullen, of Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper, Inc. reported levels of E. coli were found to be 10 times higher than normal at one spot in the lake in one of three water samples taken from the body of water Sat., June 22. At that time, Mullen said he wanted to make the results public as a precaution, calling the findings a likely “one-time thing.”

“We’ve been testing there a long time and this is the first time the number has been so high,” Mullen told The Star-News in a story published last week. Mullen said that the higher-than-normal levels of bacteria could have come from an overabundance of waterfowl or something as simple as litter. Mullen said it would likely have posed a risk only to swimmers going through chemotherapy or with immune system problems.

Florala State Park manager Joe Drakkar said last week that he and Mullen had spoken, and agreed the problem was one that would work itself out.

“We’re taking it under advisory, but it’s likely cleared up by now,” Drakkar said. “We think it was an isolated incident.”

Thursday, Florala Mayor Robert Williamson said new samples had been taken from Lake Jackson, confirming the water’s safety.

“As anticipated, follow-up samples of Lake Jackson indicate Alabama’s largest natural lake is as pristine as ever and the levels of E. coli are safe,” Williamson said.

Mullen said the Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper, Inc. conducts tests on waters the State of Alabama does not as a “public service,” adding only Alabama’s coastal waters are tested on a regular basis by state agencies.

In a statement released Thursday, Williamson acknowledged what he said he perceives as the group’s “genuine desire to protect our environment,” but blasted CRI and local news agencies’ reporting of the event as “reckless” and a “akin to shouting ‘fire’ in a theater.”

“To alert the public and create fear in visitors, to the extent they stay away from the lake, on one vial of water, is reckless and a discredit to the organization,” Williamson said. “It is very possible that the sample was taken shortly after the departure of water fowl from the area, making the notification akin to someone shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater when an individual has simply lit a cigarette.”

In previous statements to the press, Williamson also expressed concerns over the report’s possible affect on Florala’s economy, especially during the town’s annual 24th of June Masonic celebration.

Last week, Mullen said he and Drakkar would likely begin conducting training that would allow Florala State Park and city workers to test the waters themselves in the future, something Williamson called “a silver lining.”


  • Michael W Mullen

    It is shameful that those responsible – the Florala State Park Manager, the City of Florala and the media all have failed to notify beach users that contamination above actionable levels was found once again on July 26th in tests conducted by Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper, Inc. It is fairly evident that there is a bacteria source or sources close to the lake and that bacteria levels can exceed limits set by the USEPA and by ADEM for designated public beaches. It is even more shameful that the Executive Director of the Choctawhatchee Pea and Yellow Rivers Watershed Management Authority (CPYRWMA), an individual with no formal education in water science and little if any really relevant experience attacked the credibility of the data. Proper response when there is a potential health risk is to follow the precautionary principle. The precautionary principle or precautionary approach states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is not harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action. That means that, if the WMA Executive Director and others, had no proof that the Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper data was flawed that the public at a minimum should have been advised of the potential health risk with signage. The testing protocol used by Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper, Michael Mullen, was developed by Alabama Water Watch and was evaluated against the Standard Method used for E. coli testing as part of the process of obtaining USEPA approval for the method. Mr. Mullen is an Alabama Water Watch volunteer trained in the method and also is a trainer who trains others using the method. In the past, while at Troy University, he used the method in testing done under contract to the CPYRWMA. CPYRWMA Executive Director, Ms. Barbara Gibson has done a disservice to beach users when she attacked the veracity of Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper data in comments that appeared in an Andalusia Star News article on July 31st. The Star reporter had no way of knowing that Ms. Gibson has no real relevant credentials and had no reasonable basis for attacking the validity of the data (probably assuming that her title as WMA Executive Director indicated that she knew what she was talking about). She did not. She apparently was acting strictly as a political hack trying to cover for local politicians who perhaps even asked her to run interference for them. The fact of the matter is that there is a contamination source or sourecs (the most likely one is waterfowl) and the presence of that source means that there is likely to be an increase in E. coli after rain events and if there has been a long enough dry period between rain events that E. coli numbers will exceed levels deemed by state and federal agencies to be safe. The immediate solution is to get signage up at and near the beaches banning feeding of waterfowl, to cite violators as necessary to end the practice, to trap and relocate waterfowl, to periodically test for bacteria to assure there are not other sources and after that to test beach waters at least once a week during future recreational seasons. The public should expect no less from their government!

    Michael Mullen, Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper

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