Hey, What's In My Water? Swim Water Testing At Vermont State Parks

Park staff keeps an eye on the beach, cleaning and doing weekly
swim water testing 

On a hot day, nothing feels as good as a swim. But before you jump in that pretty, pristine-seeming lake, do you ever wonder how clean it is? We all know that appearances can be deceiving, and that even the cleanest looking lake can harbor bacteria, algae, and other lurking nasties.

This is one reason people enjoy and appreciate visiting our swimming areas. Vermont State Parks tests swim water at managed areas weekly and have for over 25 years. “We do it to assure our visitors that we are keeping an eye on the water in which we recreate,” says Frank Spaulding, Parks Projects Coordinator who compiles the swim water testing results each week. Occasionally there are elevated readings and alerts are posted, but, as Spaulding points out, “consistently, over time, our water is great.”

Every week, 38 different managed swim areas at state park beaches are tested for e-coli., an indicator bacteria. E-coli may not cause sickness itself, [but] its’ presence could reflect the possible presence of other sickness causing organisms. In other words, it’s just a screening test. Swimming in water with an elevated result is no guarantee that someone will get sick, or not get sick. It’s also important to keep in mind that the amount of water tested is small- 4oz., or about half a cup.

After the water is sampled, results go off to certified labs and are usually returned within a day or two. Results are posted online, and usually results for all parks are in by the end of the week, in time for the weekend. View the latest swim water results here

The most common (and understandable) worry relating to swim-water testing is about these higher-than-normal test results. And, if there is an elevated reading at a specific park, “we want everyone to understand that water quality testing is best looked at over time,” says Spaulding. After an elevated result, the water is tested again, and results come back after about 24 hours. Almost always, when staff retests, results have come back to acceptable levels. If you have questions about testing or results at a specific park, call the park directly for the latest information, or our central office at 1-888-409-7579.

The other issue on many people’s minds is cyanobacteria (commonly called blue-green algae), which occurs in certain bodies of fresh water, and is associated with lakes like Champlain and Carmi.

Cyanobacteria can naturally occur in lakes and ponds. Under certain conditions large agglomerations can form, called blooms. Blooms can produce toxins that can cause skin irritation and other health complaints, but it’s impossible to tell by just looking! Blooms are more common warmer, shallow water, and tend to appear as the summer wears on. A blue-green algae bloom is very noticeable and certainly not aesthetically pleasing.

Guidelines to follow: Avoid direct contact with the water in the area if you see a bloom, and don’t drink lake water that has not been treated. The Vermont Department of Health recommends cleaning fish thoroughly and not eating the organs. For more information on cyanobacteria, its’ health effects, and monitoring efforts on the lake, visit Lake Champlain Internationals' web pageForthe Vermont Department of Health’s information on cyanobacteria, visit their website. 

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