Bacteria, garbage flow into West Point Lake after flooding

West Point Lake safe for use, but only with caution

amccallum@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 1, 2009 

LAGRANGE, Ga. — Heavy flooding from Atlanta’s devastating rainstorms last week has brought bacteria and debris to West Point Lake, and environmental officials are asking lake users to be cautious.

Elevated levels of fecal coliform bacteria were found in water samples taken from the lake during the height of the flooding. The bacteria comes from animals and is commonly found in human and animal feces.

Joe Maltese, a retired city employee who still consults for LaGrange and helps collect lake samples, said the increase in bacteria is a common occurrence in nature after heavy rains.

“At the head of lake when river meets it, the water coming into the river has extremely high fecal coliform counts. It’s not where we want them to be, but far healthier than what folks were seeing up river,” he said, adding, “Mother Nature will solve this problem.”

Maltese, who had been out on the lake Wednesday morning, said those in contact with the lake water should use caution and wash their hands after being exposed to water. Maltese said that is always a good practice but especially important when fecal coliform levels are high.

The city of LaGrange regularly samples the lake and reports findings to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. Maltese said samples are taken twice a month during this time of year. Another sample will be conducted today, with results expected by Monday.

Tim Cash, assistant chief of the watershed protection branch at the Georgia EPD, said the issue in the Atlanta-area is contamination caused by problems at waste water treatment plants. There, samples will continue to be taken twice a week over the next two weeks and then every week until fecal coliform levels normalize.

Locally, though, Maltese said debris is a more pressing concern. As waters from Atlanta have moved down to the Chattahoochee Valley, they have brought with them trash.

“The biggest problem is debris,” Maltese said. “It’s just astounding in terms of plastics and in terms of basketballs and footballs.”

Maltese said the litter scattered along the lake is something community members — not Mother Nature — can fix. In fact, the West Point Lake Coalition’s annual lake clean up was recently rescheduled for Nov. 7 because of the flooding.

Dick Timmerberg, who is the coalition’s executive director, said his group is currently seeking service clubs or organizations that would like to volunteer for the clean up. Timmerberg said participation is critical this year.

“Obviously with the flood we need all the help we can get,” Timmerberg said.

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