E. coli bacteria closes Vancouver Lake to swimmers

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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Clark County residents will have one fewer swimming spot to enjoy as temperatures climb. Health officials have closed Vancouver Lake to swimming and wading after detecting elevated levels of the E. coli bacteria.

Clark County Public Health announced the closure Thursday after learning three of the six water samples taken earlier in the week showed elevated levels of the bacteria, said Gary Bickett, a program manager at the health department.

Public health officials will test the lake daily and will reopen it to swimming and wading as soon as tests show E. coli levels do not exceed state and federal guidelines. The earliest the lake could reopen is this afternoon, Bickett said.

“There’s a good chance, with as big of a body of water, it could be flushed out by tomorrow,” he said Thursday afternoon.

Vancouver Lake Regional Park will remain open to the public, and visitors can continue to eat fish caught in the lake after thoroughly cleaning and cooking the fish.

Anyone who comes into contact with water from Vancouver Lake should wash with soap and warm water, according to health officials. The water in park bathrooms and shelters, however, is unaffected and safe to drink.

“One of the best ways to reduce the spread of E. coli in swimming areas is to ensure that children stay out of the water if they are not potty trained,” Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County Public Health officer/administrator, said in a news release. “Swim diapers are not reliable. We discourage their use.”

E. coli is a common bacteria in the intestines of people and animals. The bacteria spreads when swimmers accidentally swallow water contaminated with human or animal feces. The bacteria can then cause serious gastrointestinal illness, with symptoms including fever, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Past closures

The health department does routine water quality testing at Vancouver Lake, as well as Klineline Pond, Lacamas Lake and Battle Ground Lake.

Last summer, Clark County Public Health and Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation advised people to avoid contact with the water in Vancouver Lake after detecting a blue-green algae bloom. The algae produces toxins that can be harmful to people and deadly for small pets that drink the water. The health advisory was in place for more than a month.

Blue-green algae blooms have closed Vancouver Lake several times the past few years.

At Klineline Pond, routine testing last summer revealed elevated levels of the E. coli bacteria. Health officials closed the pond for a couple days until bacteria levels dropped.

In 2012, Klineline was closed for several days after multiple people got ill after swimming there and water testing revealed shigella sonnei bacteria levels above what is considered safe for human contact. The shigella bacteria is spread through fecal-oral transmission and can cause bloody diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps.