Fecal bacteria drives swimmers away from Weirs Beach in Laconia

By NICK STOICO

Monitor staff

Published: 08-04-2016 12:33 AM

Dirty water made for a quiet weekend at Weirs Beach to the dismay of tourists and business owners.

The state Department of Environmental Services posted an advisory last week for the beach located in Laconia’s hub of summer activity warning swimmers that high levels of fecal bacteria have been found in the water. Samples have been collected six times in the last seven days since concerning levels of bacteria were discovered during a routine check on July 27.

It is the third time DES has posted an advisory at the beach, a popular summer attraction for weekend warriors with shops, restaurants and arcades lining Lakeside Avenue. The two previous advisories in June and July were also for traces of fecal bacteria, but the warnings were lifted within a few days of being posted.

DES says dry weather has been a main factor in holding bacteria around the beach, especially with the current drought that has extended across the state in the last several days.

“This summer has been extremely dry and we are up to 52 fecal advisories this summer,” Sonya Carlson, DES’s public beach coordinator, wrote in an email Tuesday. “Only the summer of 2013 had more advisories by this date, and that was a very wet summer.”

Advisories for fecal bacteria or cyanobacteria are common for beaches during the summer across the state, but one of this length isn’t quite so typical.

Weirs Beach will likely have an advisory posted at least once every summer, said Kevin Dunleavy, director of Laconia Parks and Recreation, which manages the public beach.

“It’s not something we like to see happen, but the reality is water quality and the samples we are getting are not meeting the threshold,” Dunleavy said. “As a precaution, we will post the advisory. It’s not preventing people from going swimming.”

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An advisory does not close the beach. Swimmers can still go in the water, and lifeguards remain on duty while an advisory is in effect. But Dunleavy said lifeguards are asked to warn swimmers of the bacteria before they dive in.

“Activity has diminished,” Dunleavy said. “But still some people came and chose to swim.”

Even if the beach is still open, a warning of fecal bacteria is usually enough to drive swimmers to another area of the lake, leaving local businesses that rely on the beach as an attraction at a loss.

At the Weathervane’s Lobster in the Rough seafood restaurant on Lakeside Avenue, manager Gail Brent says the flow of customers coming through the door has slowed since the beach advisory was put in place.

“Business has certainly been slower during the day,” Brent said. “A lot of business comes from (the beach and boaters).”

Only Weirs Beach has a bacteria advisory in effect on Lake Winnipesaukee at this time. Warnings of fecal bacteria at Carry Beach in Wolfeboro, 19 Mile Beach in Tuftonboro and Moultonboro Neck Town Beach were removed Tuesday.

In the Concord area, only Elm Brook Park Beach in Hopkinton has an advisory posted for cyanobacteria, which appears in a cloudy green bloom.

DES sampled the water at Weirs Beach again Wednesday with results expected by Friday – it typically takes at least 24 hours for results to be available.

At the Lobster in the Rough, Brent has her fingers crossed the beach will be clean by the weekend, inviting droves of people back to the area. It’s a seasonal restaurant, relying on the summer to be its bread and butter for business. And no doubt other businesses in the area are waiting anxiously for the bacteria levels at the beach to drop.

“You’ve got that right,” Brent said.

(Nick Stoico can be reached at 369-3309, nstoico@cmonitor.com or on Twitter
@NickStoico.)

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