Officials unsure why Ward Lake bacteria levels are high

Health: Ward, Black lakes remain closed

mbatcheldor@theolympian.comSeptember 5, 2012 

The cause of high levels of fecal coliform bacteria at Ward Lake remained a mystery Tuesday. The lake has been closed since Friday.

Art Starry, Thurston County Environmental Health director, said water quality has improved since the first round of tests last week, which found fecal coliform levels 10 times higher than normal. But it’s still a mixed bag.

He said some of the latest tests, conducted Friday, meet water quality standards and some don’t. He called the situation a “holding pattern.”

Results from another round of tests are expected by Thursday, he said.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife has closed a boat ramp on the lake, spokesman Craig Bartlett said.

People and pets are warned to stay out of the lake until it is deemed safe. Those who have contact with lake water should wash themselves.

That also is the case for Black Lake, which was closed days earlier because of toxic algae. More tests there are due this week, Starry said.

Meanwhile, Olympia authorities are baffled by Ward Lake, some of which abuts a planned city park and swim area.

“We’ve inspected all the known outfalls to the lake as well as other major sewer and stormwater pipes to the area, and we’ve not found any problems,” said Rich Hoey, the city’s public works director.

He said staff found minor problems with a sewer pump station in Holiday Hills, which is being fixed, but it wouldn’t explain the situation at Ward Lake.

He said the city continues to ask residents to look for leaks in septic tanks, STEP (Septic Tank Effluent Pumping) systems and grinder pumps.

Even before authorities shut the lake, residents had been concerned about an unusual algae bloom there this summer.

The City of Olympia is moving forward with efforts to open Ward Lake Park, a 9-acre site at the southeast tip of the lake that the city purchased for $3.5 million in 2007. The property includes 351 feet of shoreline.

The city has a long-range plan to create a freshwater swimming beach at the park. The city hasn’t had a freshwater swimming beach since Capitol Lake was closed to swimmers in 1985.

Olympia could spend nearly $592,000 on the park, with the swimming beach perhaps opening in another decade.

Ward Lake is a 65-acre kettle lake, with a maximum depth of 65 feet and 1.4 acres of shoreline. It was formed when glaciers retreated thousands of years ago and has no natural tributaries.

mbatcheldor@theolympian.com 360-704-6869 @MattBatcheldor

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