Spoiling the Fun: E.coli Bacteria at Iowa Beaches
E. coli is an indicator bacteria that is used to signal if a lake could have bacteria or pathogens harmful to human health.
According to the Iowa DNR, water can become contaminated by fecal matter from “improperly constructed or operated septic systems and sewage treatment plants, manure spills, storm water runoff from lands with wildlife and pet droppings, or direct contamination from waterfowl, livestock, or small children in the water.” Rain also contributes to temporary spikes in E. coli by bringing fecal matter from the beaches to the water. Swimming in contaminated water usually only results in illness if water is swallowed.
According to Iowa DNR, fish from lakes with high levels of bacteria are safe to eat. E. coli has no effect on the population levels of fish or their health. However, it is important to safely prepare fish by properly washing, cleaning, storing, and cooking them.
E. coli has little impact on the look of the lake. However, various forms of runoff can contribute to the murkiness of the lake. As the Iowa Lakes Valuation Project shows, Iowans value water clarity and low levels of bacteria. If murkiness or high concentrations of bacteria are noted, individuals may stay away from certain lakes. In turn, there is an economic loss associated with the loss of visitors. For more information, click here.
Children and elderly adults are the most vulnerable to waterborne illnesses, as well as individuals with weakened immune systems. The Iowa Department of Public Health notes that contaminated water can lead to diarrhea, bloody stool and, in rare cases, permanent damage to the kidneys.