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Lake water quality could be altered by heavy rain

By Meredith Machen, mmachen@wcyb.com
Published On: Jul 30 2013 04:31:54 PM CDT
Updated On: Jul 30 2013 03:07:48 PM CDT

It's no surprise that this summer's extensive rainfall has sent a surge of water and sediment into our local lakes.

It's no surprise that this summer's extensive rainfall has sent a surge of water and sediment into our local lakes.

In some cases, you may have found them murkier and dirtier than usual. News 5 asked the experts if there's any cause for concern for your family's health.

A sunny day on the lake is a refreshing escape from one of the rainiest summers on record, but what did all that rainfall leave behind? 

Boone Lake dock owner Ferren Hicks said that's a question he's concerned about when it comes to his grandchildren. "I've got a shower out front. I make them run though it [to] get the stuff off of them just as soon as they come up out of the water," Hicks told News 5.

Dr. Phil Scheuerman with ETSU's Department of Environmental Health told us lake lovers do need to be aware of the added risks that come with excessive rainfall. "We still [have] a lot of water standing. It's not draining away," said Dr. Scheureman.

Dr. Schueurman said it's what that rainwater first washed over that causes most concern. "Animal waste [and] the nutrients are two big issues. E. coli is the one everybody sort of focuses on, because it's the main indicator we use whether or not there's been animal waste pollution or human pollution," Dr. Scheureman said.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation actually tests for E. coli levels on our local watersheds, so News 5 went to the local office to get the latest statistics.

Mark Braswell, TDEC's external affairs director for the Johnson City field office, told us E. coli levels were last collected in late June on Boone Lake. "The highest number we received back from our lab was about 22 most probable numbers per 100 milliliters. The recreational standard for people using water to swim in is 126 most probable units, so that's about five times less," Braswell said.

Even so, doctors warn no matter when you're in a lake you should always be cautious, because you can still get sick. "That can be a stomach bug, which is the most common, with diarrhea illnesses. You can also get skin infections, ear infections, [and] respiratory infections," said Dr. Stephen May with the Sullivan County Regional Health Department.    

Dr. May's advice is to try not to swallow lake water, and like Hicks, wash it off your body as soon as you get out.

An interesting fact Mark Braswell with TDEC also told us: water quality levels have improved dramatically over the past few decades thanks to municipal, infrastructure, and technological improvements.