Lake Champlain looks awfully inviting on a warm, sometimes muggy July day like Friday was, but Burlington city employees are hoping you resist the temptation to take a dip.
It’s because of an issue most of the city’s public beaches are experiencing that happened twice last summer…but which hadn’t shown up this year until today.
At about 9:00 Friday morning, Burlington Parks, Recreation & Waterfront tweeted that the beaches appeared to be OK for swimming. However, shortly after 11:30, they reported a possible sighting of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, at North Beach.
Less than an hour after that, they tweeted, “Darn.”, saying that Leddy Beach and Texaco Beach are also shut down.
“In some ways, it wasn’t a suprise, in that we’ve been having day upon day of warm weather and that can be something that can trigger the cyanobacteria to come up,” Parks, Recreation & Waterfront director Cindi Wight said.
Health officials say that while swimming or wading in water with blue-green algae isn’t always harmful, it can cause rashes, diarrhea or stomach problems, among other health concerns.
Blanchard Beach is still open, and a Burlington man we spoke with there bikes to work and back every day along the waterfront.
“Whenever the (beach closure) signs are out, I do see them, and I’m just curious as to what exactly they are,” Richard Bragg said. “Was it a discharge that had happened, or is it just testing that they do every day and they found something?”
As it happens, there was a stormwater and sewer system discharge into the Pine Street Barge Canal late Thursday night. Burlington Public Works staff members say the discharge was mostly stormwater and was not sent directly into Lake Champlain. However, the barge canal does flow into the lake.
“I really would like to know if it is related to the discharges,” Bragg said. “I think there’s a water treatment plant right up there. I have a feeling that it has to do with that, but I don’t really know.”
The DPW says last night’s discharge did not lead to any beach closures and is not related to the performance of the treatment plant.
There’s no estimate, however, of the size of the discharge in terms of gallons of water.
Wight says Parks, Rec & Waterfront has a robust testing program that works with the DPW and the state.
“The system’s in place to make sure everybody’s safe at our beaches, so we will be testing again tomorrow morning,” she said. “It’s about 30 minutes after we test that we can determine if we’re able to open the beaches back up again or if they have to remain closed.”
Parks, Rec & Waterfront staff members have also shared some information on exactly how they test for not only cyanobacteria, but also E.coli contamination. You can find those additional details about the tests here.