As Labor Day holiday begins, state posts nine beaches with warnings

By: - September 3, 2021 3:43 pm

Backbone Lake near Dundee has had a history of swimming advisories due to high fecal bacteria levels at times. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Department of Natural Resources)

As the Labor Day weekend begins, the state has issued “swimming not recommended” advisories for nine beaches.

High levels of fecal bacteria were found in samples taken early this week at seven state park beaches:

  • Backbone near Dundee
  • Keomah near Oskaloosa
  • Lower Pine near Eldora
  • Nine Eagles near Davis City
  • Prairie Rose near Harlan
  • McIntosh Woods at Clear Lake
  • Union Grove near Gladbrook

High levels of E. coli, which can come from animal wastes and human sewage, often mean the presence of organisms that can make people sick. Pathogens can, for example, give people intestinal illnesses, skin rashes or infections. The very old, very young and those with suppressed immune systems are most vulnerable.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources and state and federal health officials recommend that swimmers and others getting in one of the lakes avoid swallowing the water and bathe shortly after returning home.

Pine Lake South Beach, McIntosh Woods and Union Grove exceeded the E. coli limit for five weeks of samples. Nine Eagles, Prairie Rose, Keomah, Backbone topped both that limit and the single-sample standard.

Algae toxins prompt swimming warnings

In addition, algae toxin levels exceeded swimming standards at Green Valley State Park beach near Creston and Crandall’s Beach just north of Marble Beach State Recreation Area along Big Spirit Lake in Dickinson County.

Algae toxins have become a more visible problem in Iowa as the state expanded testing. Des Moines Water Works once declared one of its chief water sources, the Des Moines River, “essentially unusable” for drinking water because of high levels of microcystin at times. Microcystin is one of the most prevalent toxins from blue-green algae, which are common in Iowa but don’t always emit toxins.

The nonprofit Iowa Environmental Council follows the weekly readings and has analyzed results from other years

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Senior reporter Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.