The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Lead Stories

August 2, 2006

Grand Lake basin gets mixed reviews on bacteria levels

By Andy Ostmeyer

While neither Missouri nor McDonald County officials test one of the most popular recreational streams in the state, neighbors to the west watch it carefully.

The Oklahoma Water Resources Board has found that Elk River, where the agency tests it for bacteria, has levels so high that people who get in the water are increasing their odds of getting sick. That state's recommendation is that what it calls "primary body contact-recreation" - swimming, for example - "is not supported" in Elk River.

The Elk River analyses are part of Oklahoma's efforts to find out what is flowing into the Grand Lake watershed.

A survey of other Oklahoma records found:

At every monitoring site along the rivers and streams that feed what Oklahoma officials call the Neosho Grand Lake sub-basin - and there are 15 of them - recreation such as swimming is "not supported" because of bacterial contamination. That includes not only Elk River near Tiff City, but also Spring River at Quapaw, Okla.; the Neosho River at Commerce, Okla.; and Honey Creek near Grove, Okla., on the north and east sides of the lake. The mean for enterococci bacteria in Honey Creek is 362.7 colonies per 100 milliliters of water, 10 times the federal standard of 33 colonies per 100 milliliters for enterococci. The mean of 19 samples taken in Elk River over the past six years is 50.6 colonies of enterococci.

In 2004, 30 percent of the samples collected in Grand Lake proper by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board had elevated levels of enterococci. Those readings were as high as 600 colonies of the bacteria per 100 milliliters of water. Bacteria such as enterococci and E. coli are predictors of what is known as swimming-associated gastroenteritis and have been linked to other illnesses. In 2006, so far, the lake has tested at levels considered safe. State officials test the lake every other year, relying on volunteers to fill the gap.

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