While politicians and outside press have debated whether or not the spike in E. coli last May was generated by humans – the simplest and most likely reason for the spike can quite literally be seen during a rainy day at Lake of the Ozarks
If I’m being good (and that’s not always), I start my day off with a run. Running at the lake isn’t very easy – particularly if you live near the lake like I do. The unending steep hills that jut out from the lake can make it difficult to go far. It takes a while to get used to the tough climbs and fast descents.
But the scenery is almost always beautiful and I usually see some deer or wild turkey along the way. If I can get out of bed, it is a great way to start my day.
Thursday morning it was raining when I stepped outside for my run – in fact it had rained all night. It was pretty damp outside.
My running route takes me on roads that do not have a ton of traffic and I see more trees than houses – I like it that way. As the road that I was running on wound around steep hills, I would look to my left or right and see streams of rainwater gushing downhill towards the lake. These streams weren’t normally there; they were temporary manifestations due to the rainfall. When the rain stopped, they would cease to exist in a matter of days or hours.
There is a spot on my route that takes me across a small creek. From the road, you can see the creek spill into the lake. However, on Thursday morning it wasn’t just “spilling” - the creek was overflowing and rushing into the lake. It was also taking a lot of dirt and debris with it.
Soon after I traveled over the temporary river, two deer bounded across my path – spooked by the strange wet guy running down the road.
It occurred to me, as I turned around and started running back toward my house, that if people could see what I saw that day, they’d have a better understanding of what causes high E. coli readings.
Nothing could have provided a better illustration than those two deer (along with the squirrels and birds that I also saw on my run) moving around in the hills as the water flushed whatever waste (and I do mean waste) the animals left behind toward the lake.
While politicians and outside press have debated whether or not the spike in E. coli last May was generated by humans – the simplest and most likely reason for the spike can quite literally be seen during a rainy day at Lake of the Ozarks.
It’s the same reason why the DNR (and everyone else in the nation) report current rainfall with their E. coli findings – rainfall takes dirt, debris and fecal matter and pushes it into larger bodies of water.
This almost always creates higher than normal E. coli readings in those bodies of water. In a few hours or days, those readings subside because the water moves on or the E. coli die. There is nothing unusual in the occurrence.
The bad news is that if the lake has a similar amount of rainfall this spring as it has had in the last three years (and there is no reason to believe it won’t), it will almost certainly post high E. coli readings.
Then, as it has the last three years, the levels will quickly decrease to a very low and safe amount for the remainder of the season.
The ugly truth is that elevated E. coli levels in the spring will never be eradicated. Even if we were certain that every septic tank in the area worked flawlessly, the lake would still have high E. coli readings after a heavy rainfall. The old adage “stuff flows downhill” remains quite literal for us.
We can’t run from this fact and we need to work toward having the public, press and politicians understand it. The high readings need to be put it in their proper perspective. If the public had been presented last year’s E. coli readings as a whole, they would have been able to see that there was one big spike at the beginning of the year followed by some pretty good test results the rest of the year – same as it has every year.
Unless the tests begin to show a sustained pattern of elevated E. coli or high E. coli readings occurring without the rain – our collective response as a community should be a shrug of the shoulders and a response of “that’s about what we expected.”
Contact Lake Media publisher John Tucker at firstname.lastname@example.org