A rowing event that was expected to draw more than a thousand people to Vancouver last weekend was canceled due to E. coli concerns.
The U.S. Rowing Northwest Masters Regional Championship was scheduled to take place at Vancouver Lake. But shortly before people began to arrive from out of town, Clark County Public Health closed the swim beach after routine testing showed elevated levels of E. coli bacteria in the water.
Rowers from the Pacific Northwest, California and Canada were expected at the event.
“It was going to be the biggest one yet,” said Connor Bullis, head coach of the Vancouver Lake Rowing Club. “Lots of people came down to stay for, like, four or five days.”
Additionally, the Vancouver Lake Rowing Club began summer camps this week, and Bullis had to send an email to parents at the last minute informing them that water activities would be canceled for the foreseeable future.
“We are holding camps on land until we get the notice from Public Health that levels have changed,” he said.
The closure will remain in effect until tests show that E. coli bacteria levels do not exceed state and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. Public Health will advise the public when water contact is considered safe again.
“We’re playing it safe for the kids, especially since kids are at higher risk,” Bullis said. “For now, we’re just waiting it out.”
The U.S. Rowing Northwest Masters Regional Championship doesn’t bring in a lot of money for the rowing club, Bullis said, but it does for the company that constructs the race course and others.
“There’s definitely been some money lost this week,” he said.
Elevated levels of E. coli bacteria in the water are likely due to the higher level of the lake caused by excessive rain.
“We suspect the geese that frequently occupy the grassy area along the shoreline — coupled with the higher water level causing water to cover some of that grassy area — may be causing the elevated E. coli levels at the swim beach,” Public Health spokeswoman Marissa Armstrong said. “This is a good reminder to not feed geese or ducks at the park. Feeding them attracts them to the beach area, which then increases the amount of poop washing into the water.”
Bullis joined the rowing club this year, but he said previous coaches warned him about the blue-green algae and E. coli that occasionally cause lake closures in the summer.
“We’re in a holding pattern right now,” he said. “(Public Health officials) are doing everything they can.”
Visit Public Health’s website for current advisory information at clark.wa.gov/public-health/public-beaches.