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When E. coli strikes Oneida Shores

— With summer in full swing, many residents will be looking to public beaches to keep cool.

But what happens when the beaches are closed?

It’s a problem we’ve seen several times over the last couple of years at Oneida Shores in Brewerton, as well as other beaches along Oneida Lake. The park was closed to swimmers late last month by the Onondaga County Department of Health because E. coli bacteria had been found in unacceptable levels during routine sampling.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, E. coli is a bacteria that lives in the intestines of people and animals. Most forms of the bacteria are harmless, but some can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia, and other illnesses. The kinds of E. coli that cause gastrointestinal distress are often transmitted through contaminated water or food.

So how does this bacteria end up in Oneida Lake?

“It’s a combination of natural factors,” said Kevin Zimmerman of the Onondaga County Department of Health. “It’s not an exact science. A lot of it is weather and the movement of the water. In Oneida Lake, the water moves from east to west. What happens is weather riles the water, which stirs up more sediment, and we have to wait until it settles out.”

Zimmerman said bird feces can also cause the spike.

“We’ve also had issues with ducks and geese, depending on where you are on the lake,” he said. “In the last couple of years, it’s not as much geese, but three or four years ago, it was a major issue. There were actually goose droppings floating in the water.”

Health officials sample the water at Oneida Lake (and other public beaches) monthly to ensure that it meets quality standards in lab tests. Health officials test more often if they get a complaint or if there severe weather.

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