Too much E. coli found in Florala lake

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 24, 2014

One of three water samples collected Saturday by Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper Inc. at Lake Jackson in Florala was found to have E. coli levels at about 10 times the Alabama and United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) limit for a single sample at a designated swimming beach.

According to waterkeeper Michael Mullen, the sample was collected from just to the east of the pier on the north side of the lake. Samples collected from the west side of the pier and at the smaller beach area about a half-mile to the east tested within the Alabama and USEPA limit.

Mullen said the E. coli levels could have a number of sources, including a sewage leak, waterfowl or something as simple as a dirty diaper being tossed into that area of the lake.

“Ideally, we’d like to do some more testing to see if this is a one-time thing, which I think it is,” Mullen said. “We’ve been testing there a long time and this is the first time the number has been so high.”

While water from Lake Jackson is not used for local drinking water, Mullen said the high E. coli levels could pose a threat to swimmers.

“Persons with higher risks, such as persons on certain types of chemotherapy, persons using medications that suppress the immune system, persons with known immune system problems and small children should avoid the area until additional samples can be collected and these new tests indicate the threat has passed or the source is identified or eliminated,” Mullen said.

Florala State Park manager Joe Drakkar said that area of the lake would not be closed, but a sign warning swimmers with immune problems would be posted.

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

Mullen said the Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper Inc. group tries to test certain sites in the area three times, approximately one week before three major summer holidays, with their next round of testing scheduled to come prior to Labor Day.

“We test 15 sites around the area, but the frequency depends upon the resources,” he said. “We do it as a service to the public. I had a good conversation with (Drakkar) this morning. We’re going to make arrangements to train his folks, so they can do testing themselves.”

While Mullen said the information collected at Lake Jackson was provided to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and the Alabama Department of Conservation and National Resources, he added that the State of Alabama has no programs in place to regularly test waters, with the exception of Alabama’s coastline.

Mullen said the test method utilized by Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper Inc. to test this site and 14 others in the Choctawhatchee River basin is the test method utilized by Alabama Water Watch and has been approved for first alert monitoring by Region 4 of the USEPA.