Chapter 39 Healthy Pond? So They Say

The short answer from county and state governments  on bacteria in the local pond—which may be the source of  infections suffered by some dogs who swam in the water last summer—is that the pond is healthy enough for humans to swim there.  But you’re not allowed to.  Not that anyone would want to swim in that algae-choked, scummy  water.

We all know the government didn’t give a short answer.  Its answer stated, basically, that the pond in the park is not for recreation.  It is there for storm water management, meaning  all the rain-washed oil and gasoline and trash and other runoff from the surrounding area will be dumped into it.

“The Landon C. Burns pond is a designated stormwater facility.  Such stormwater ponds are created to receive runoff from the surrounding land and are therefore highly susceptible to pollutants from the surrounding area.  These ponds are not created for recreational use or bathing.  Public bathing beaches are required to meet bacteria standards  as overseen by the County Health Department,” the county government statement said.

We know the pond is not, nor has  been in memory, a public bathing beach.  But if the pond is not for recreation, why is the Department of Natural Resources stocking it with fish every spring?  And why is that stocking program followed immediately by Standing Room Only fishermen  around the water’s edge?   Something’s fishy here, and it’s not the trout that DNR pours into a pond that somehow, somewhere along the way, was changed from quiet fishing site to  runoff dump.

The stormwater management designation may help explain why it seems that more small fish seem to wash belly-up to the edges of the pond each spring.  It may explain why two of the big snapping turtles died this year, and  lay with upturned shells along the bank until the turtle inside rotted.

To its credit, the local government had the water tested after I reported that Greta and several other dogs who had been swimming in the pond came down with bacterial infections.  Greta’s a retriever.  That’s what she does.  Send a tennis ball or her squeaky toy into the pond, and she’s on it.   If  dogs were getting sick, should fishermen and women be told not to eat fish they catch in the pond? I asked.

It took about a month to get lab test results.  The answer is that there is an mpn (most probable number) of 206 E. coli bacteria per 100 milliliters of pond water.  That’s 29 bacteria per 100 milliliters below the level (235 mpn) that is the safe upper limit for water used for human recreation.   Yes, we have E. coli in our intestines, but it’s not reassuring to consider that it’s the “indicator” bacterium for fecal contamination.

Whose feces are driving  up the bacteria count in the pond?  Canada geese,  primarily, assisted by dogs whose owners don’t clean up after them, men and women who leave disposable diapers on the ground after changing baby (yes, some do), and the occasional park visitor who defecates among the bushes rather than walk a couple hundred yards to the portable toilet.  Unfortunately, Greta sniffs that out.  Fortunately, she can be pulled away from the site.

It’s hard to tell what the runoff from nearby roads and parking lots contributes, but there are times after a storm when greasy, oily rainbows are visible along the water’s edge.

The algae may be making the problem worse.  I’m no botanical expert and can’t be sure the pond algae is Cladophora, which holds a lot of bacteria in its mats.   But it looks like the same smelly algae mats that drive swimmers away from Great Lakes beaches.  There is  another algae in the pond that looks like a floor mat made of bright green paint chips.

The pond is becoming a little better as colder temperatures kill the algae.  But the algal blooms will be back, next summer.  Greta won’t.  We’ll have to find another place for her to cool off from the summer heat.








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