By Sue Moore
It has been safe to swim at the Sunset Lake beach in Vicksburg all summer long, according to the Kalamazoo County Health Department. Last year the beach was closed during June and July due to excessively high E.coli bacteria counts.
The county’s environmental health staff collects water samples each week from the north, middle and south ends of the swimming area. They are analyzed by the Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Laboratory. These samples show that Sunset Lake has not exceeded the standard for E.coli in 2017 and has shown a drastic reduction from 2016 when the beach was ordered closed.
“We are actually doing as well or better in containing E.coli than many of the other beaches such as Holland State Park, Saugatuck, St. Joe and South Haven,” said Ron Smith, village council trustee and a next door neighbor to the Sunset Lake beach. He has posted weekly reports on his Sunset Lake Water Trail Facebook page.
The rules for E.coli bacteria contact in public swimming beaches are not to exceed a count of 130 colonies per 100 milliliters as a 30-day geometric mean. In 2016 Vicksburg’s beach count registered almost the highest in the state. This year it is down to an average of between two and eight colonies per 100 milliliters.
Why is E.coli bacteria bad for swimming? Most types of E. coli, found in human and animal intestinal tracts, are harmless and even help keep the digestive tract healthy. But some strains can cause diarrhea if one eats contaminated food or drinks fouled water. While E. coli is associated with food poisoning, people can also get pneumonia, breathing problems, and urinary tract infections from different types of the bacteria. In fact, 75-95 percent of urinary tract infections are caused by E. coli. One especially bad strain, O157:H7, can make someone very sick. It causes abdominal cramps, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea and is a leading cause of acute kidney failure in children. Swallowing only small amounts of water that contains E. coli, perhaps while swimming in a pool, lake, or pond can cause any of the above problems, according to WebMD.
The only difference from the 2016 and 2017 results according to Smith is the village’s decision to “goose-proof” the beach. An orange plastic fence was erected by the Department of Public Works (DPW) along the beach in late spring of this year. Over 73 geese and goslings were later captured and relocated to a refuge by Gooseworks LLC. The captured geese have not returned, making it appear that the E. coli problem was due to the excessive number of geese in the park and beach area, Smith said.