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High rainfall leads to high bacteria levels at N.H. beaches

  • A duck walks along the beach at Opechee Park Cove Beach in Laconia; Tuesday, July 30, 2013. Several beaches around the state have been closed due to high levels of bacteria. Some point to the higher amount of rainfall as the reason.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

    A duck walks along the beach at Opechee Park Cove Beach in Laconia; Tuesday, July 30, 2013. Several beaches around the state have been closed due to high levels of bacteria. Some point to the higher amount of rainfall as the reason.

    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

  • Families play in Lake Winnipesaukee at Ellacoya State Park; Tuesday, July 30, 2013. One part of the beach had high levels of bacteria but after new test results came back on Tuesday afternoon the advisory was lifted. Several beaches around the state have been closed due to high levels of bacteria. Some point to the higher amount of rainfall as the reason.<br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

    Families play in Lake Winnipesaukee at Ellacoya State Park; Tuesday, July 30, 2013. One part of the beach had high levels of bacteria but after new test results came back on Tuesday afternoon the advisory was lifted. Several beaches around the state have been closed due to high levels of bacteria. Some point to the higher amount of rainfall as the reason.
    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

  • An Ellacoya State Park employee removes an advisory sign from the beach on Tuesday afternoon after water quality test results  showed a lower level of bacteria in the water; July 30, 2013. Several beaches around the state have been closed due to high levels of bacteria. Some point to the higher amount of rainfall as the reason.<br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

    An Ellacoya State Park employee removes an advisory sign from the beach on Tuesday afternoon after water quality test results showed a lower level of bacteria in the water; July 30, 2013. Several beaches around the state have been closed due to high levels of bacteria. Some point to the higher amount of rainfall as the reason.
    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

  • Standing seater surrounds picnic tables at Ellacoya State Park; Tuesday, July 30, 2013. Ellacoya was one of several beaches around the state have been closed due to high levels of bacteria. Some point to the higher amount of rainfall as the reason. The beach near the mouth of a brook showed high levels of bacteria was was cleared on Tuesday afternoon.<br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

    Standing seater surrounds picnic tables at Ellacoya State Park; Tuesday, July 30, 2013. Ellacoya was one of several beaches around the state have been closed due to high levels of bacteria. Some point to the higher amount of rainfall as the reason. The beach near the mouth of a brook showed high levels of bacteria was was cleared on Tuesday afternoon.
    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

  • Four-year-old Ryan Johnson of Northfield plays in the sand farthest from the water during a trip with his family to Opechee Park Cove Beach; Tuesday, July 30, 2013. Several beaches around the state have been closed due to high levels of bacteria. Some point to the higher amount of rainfall as the reason.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

    Four-year-old Ryan Johnson of Northfield plays in the sand farthest from the water during a trip with his family to Opechee Park Cove Beach; Tuesday, July 30, 2013. Several beaches around the state have been closed due to high levels of bacteria. Some point to the higher amount of rainfall as the reason.

    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

  • Nancy Dixon of Pittsfield has the beach to herself at Opechee Park Cover Beach in Laconia; Tuesday, July 30, 2013. Several beaches around the state have been closed due to high levels of bacteria. Some point to the higher amount of rainfall as the reason.<br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

    Nancy Dixon of Pittsfield has the beach to herself at Opechee Park Cover Beach in Laconia; Tuesday, July 30, 2013. Several beaches around the state have been closed due to high levels of bacteria. Some point to the higher amount of rainfall as the reason.
    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

  • A sign warns visitors to Opechee Park Cove Beach in Laconia of the risks from high levels of bacteria in the water along the shore; Tuesday, July 30, 2013. Several beaches around the state have been closed due to high levels of bacteria. Some point to the higher amount of rainfall as the reason.<br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

    A sign warns visitors to Opechee Park Cove Beach in Laconia of the risks from high levels of bacteria in the water along the shore; Tuesday, July 30, 2013. Several beaches around the state have been closed due to high levels of bacteria. Some point to the higher amount of rainfall as the reason.
    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

  • A duck walks along the beach at Opechee Park Cove Beach in Laconia; Tuesday, July 30, 2013. Several beaches around the state have been closed due to high levels of bacteria. Some point to the higher amount of rainfall as the reason.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
  • Families play in Lake Winnipesaukee at Ellacoya State Park; Tuesday, July 30, 2013. One part of the beach had high levels of bacteria but after new test results came back on Tuesday afternoon the advisory was lifted. Several beaches around the state have been closed due to high levels of bacteria. Some point to the higher amount of rainfall as the reason.<br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
  • An Ellacoya State Park employee removes an advisory sign from the beach on Tuesday afternoon after water quality test results  showed a lower level of bacteria in the water; July 30, 2013. Several beaches around the state have been closed due to high levels of bacteria. Some point to the higher amount of rainfall as the reason.<br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
  • Standing seater surrounds picnic tables at Ellacoya State Park; Tuesday, July 30, 2013. Ellacoya was one of several beaches around the state have been closed due to high levels of bacteria. Some point to the higher amount of rainfall as the reason. The beach near the mouth of a brook showed high levels of bacteria was was cleared on Tuesday afternoon.<br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
  • Four-year-old Ryan Johnson of Northfield plays in the sand farthest from the water during a trip with his family to Opechee Park Cove Beach; Tuesday, July 30, 2013. Several beaches around the state have been closed due to high levels of bacteria. Some point to the higher amount of rainfall as the reason.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
  • Nancy Dixon of Pittsfield has the beach to herself at Opechee Park Cover Beach in Laconia; Tuesday, July 30, 2013. Several beaches around the state have been closed due to high levels of bacteria. Some point to the higher amount of rainfall as the reason.<br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
  • A sign warns visitors to Opechee Park Cove Beach in Laconia of the risks from high levels of bacteria in the water along the shore; Tuesday, July 30, 2013. Several beaches around the state have been closed due to high levels of bacteria. Some point to the higher amount of rainfall as the reason.<br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

The cloudy skies may have cleared over the state, but the effects of this summer’s rainfall may continue keeping swimmers away from some of New Hampshire’s beaches.

Elevated rain levels have led to an unusually high number of bacteria level advisories for beaches this year, including 13 advisories that were in effect at the end of the weekend. While most of the beaches were cleared by the most recent sampling results released yesterday, four still had advisories in place, including two beaches in Laconia.

The advisories were issued after water samples from the beaches exceeded the state standard for fecal bacteria levels. Sonya Carlson, the public beach program coordinator for the state Department of Environmental Services, said the summer’s frequent rain has caused increased runoff, which often contaminates bodies of water.

“We haven’t done a huge study on it or anything, but there’s no doubt it’s the rain,” Carlson said. “We have more than twice as many advisories as we’ve had in the last few years at this time. It’s just the rain washing everything to the beaches.”

From June 17, when environmental services began sampling the water, through Monday, Carlson said the department issued 58 E. coli advisories. Through the same date last year, the department issued just 29.

While that number is slightly below average, Carlson said it is much closer to the usual number than this year’s. The department had issued 31 advisories through the same date in 2011, 33 in 2010 and 35 in 2009. The average number of advisories for the entire summer over the last four years was 56.

“We’re beyond that already and we have a whole month,” Carlson said. “It’s just outrageous.”

Four New Hampshire beaches remained under a swimming advisory yesterday: Bartlett Beach in Laconia, Milton Pond in Strafford, Opechee Park Cove in Laconia and Otter Brook Lake in Keene. The number was down from 13 advisories the previous day.

Many possible sources

The bacteria contaminating the waters could come from a number of sources and differs with each body of water, Carlson said. The advisory indicates fecal contamination and is a test of E. coli for fresh water, and any warm-blooded animal could have produced the matter that causes it.

At some beaches, the contamination source may be as clear as a large amount of goose waste in the water. Other beaches could be located near farms that are not properly taking care of their animal waste, and still others could have a broken septic system.

“It’s not just an easy answer, like, ‘Oh, well it’s got to be from that farm,’ but it takes a lot more to investigate,” Carlson said. “All things are particular to each specific beach. It just happens that with the rain, it happens to all of them.”

Since the number of sources are varied, the possible solutions are varied as well. Carlson said there is no quick fix for fecal contamination, and towns and beaches that are issued advisories approach the problem differently.

Some beaches have only one advisory in a decade and allow the bacteria to go away on its own, she said.

Ellacoya State Park in Gilford, for example, was issued an advisory last Wednesday that remained in place until yesterday afternoon. The beach posted an advisory warning sign on the right-hand side of the shore, but beachgoers continued to wade and swim along the left two-thirds of the shore.

“They tested the water here and said it was fine, the woman at the gate told us,” Christy Holzrichter of Ossippee said from a chair in the center of the beach. “The right side tested positive for bacteria by the brook, but to the left they tested all the parts from there over and it tested negative.”

More than two dozen swimmers agreed with Holzrichter that swimming at the other parts of the beach was safe. And by 3 p.m. the Department of Environmental Services released the latest sampling results, and Ellacoya was cleared.

Recurring issue

But other areas, like Laconia, have a recurring problem and take steps to figure out the source and correct the problem.

Kevin Dunleavy, director of recreation and facilities for Laconia, said the city has been issued about five swimming advisories this summer, which is typical at this point of the year.

“One of the big issues we have is we know we have bacteria at certain times, but we don’t necessarily know the origin,” Dunleavy said. “It could be unintended sewer discharge from the sewer system, the septic system or boat pumping stations. . . . Other sources of bacteria and E. coli could be water fowl or from the bathers themselves.”

In an effort to prevent recurring advisories, the city is employing Environmental Canine Services LLC, a Michigan company that uses dogs to detect human sewage. The company is testing water in a number of coastal communities in New Hampshire and Maine this week, and the dogs will stop in Laconia on Friday. They will visit Weirs Beach and Opechee Park Cove to see whether they can sniff out the cause of the contamination.

Although Weirs Beach is not currently under advisory, Dunleavy said the location has a history of high bacteria levels.

“It’s obviously a beach where we’d like to find out the issue so we can rectify it with the economic impact Weirs Beach has for the area and the business community here,” he said. “And Opechee Cove is another beach that has had a long history of beach advisories, so we’d like to confirm or deny if illicit sewer discharge is a problem there as well.”

While the dogs can only identify human sewage, Dunleavy said the test will at least help Laconia narrow the list of possible sources.

“By having these dogs come, it could eliminate the need to have ongoing testing, which can take a long time,” Dunleavy said. “It’s most cost-effective, and they can identify sewage immediately. They may even be able to detect the origin of an illicit sewer discharge.”

Visitors to Opechee Park Cove yesterday were hopeful the effort would succeed.

Brittany Ryder and Ira Mayo of Laconia frequently bring their four children to the beach to swim, but they only allowed the kids on the nearby playground yesterday. Ryder said they have been going to Opechee less this summer because of the advisories.

“I don’t want my kids to get sick,” she said. “It’s been under advisory a lot of times this summer, maybe three or four times.”

Lauren Wright of Pembroke works in nearby Gilford and frequently visits the park on her lunch hour. Wright was concerned with the placement and size of the advisory signs. The three yellow notices were located on a bulletin board in front of the sand and on the far right- and left-hand sides in front of the water.

“It’s not a very big sign and people might not pay attention to that,” she said. “They could walk right by this one (on the board) and down to the middle there. They should really put a bigger sign.”

Although she primarily swims in the Merrimack River outside her home, Wright said the advisories are issued often and it’s unfortunate for residents who do like to swim at Opechee.

“It’s a little uneasy,” she said. “I just walked barefoot through that puddle there, and I’m probably going to go home and wash my feet now.”

(Mel Flanagan can be reached at 369-3321 or mflanagan@cmonitor.com.)

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