Those hoping to cool off at the lake at Rancho Seco Recreational Area this weekend might have to find an alternative – high bacteria levels in the lake have made swimming in the water unsafe, officials say.
The Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which operates the recreational area, closed the lake July 1 after results that day showed an increase of total coliforms, said Jonathon Tudor, SMUD spokesman. The increase of total coliforms is the result of bacteria from duck and geese fecal matter growing at a higher rate because of recent high temperatures.
Total coliforms are typically not harmful to humans, but are a good indicator of whether other harmful pathogens are in the water, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“With freshwater lakes, (when) you have a heat wave and the temperature of the water increases, the bacteria grows more than it normally would,” Tudor said. “The risk is very low, but we just want to be cautious.”
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Despite the lake’s closure to swimmers, the greater Rancho Seco Recreational Area remains open with barbecue areas, fishing and boat rentals still available. Still, the change has put off many vacationers’ plans during these recent hot days.
“We have a lot of people who want to come swimming and just can’t,” said Dena Oneto, who works at the park. “We’ve lost a lot of people.”
Tudor said there have been no reported illnesses related to the increase in total coliforms.
SMUD typically tests the water monthly, but since discovering the high bacteria levels, testing has occurred almost daily, Tudor said. Depending on Friday’s results, the lake could open for swimming this weekend, though Tudor said that may be unlikely.
“Usually (closures) last a week when we get spikes” in heat, Tudor said. “But we’ve got another heat wave coming, and we just won’t open it until we’re confident it’s safe.”
Tudor said his best bet is the lake won’t be closed “much longer.”