Idylwood Beach is currently closed due to high E. coli levels. Photo courtesy of city of Redmond

Idylwood Beach is currently closed due to high E. coli levels. Photo courtesy of city of Redmond

E. coli levels lead to Idylwood Beach closure

It’s hard to know what’s causing the bacteria to thrive.

Idylwood Beach in Redmond will be closed through the weekend due to high levels of E. coli concentrations.

Crews from the King County Water and Land Resources Division tested the water earlier this week and found that the levels of E. coli on the beach exceeded the thresholds for opening. The typical cause of high E. coli levels in swimming water is generally related to waterfowl in the area, according to a press release. King County crews will sample the beach again Saturday and next Monday. Per King County protocol, the beach will remain closed through the weekend. The beach will reopen when E. coli levels return to a safe range, the release states.

Updates about the Idylwood Beach closure will be posted to the Idylwood Park webpage.

An increased risk of recreational water illness can come with contact or ingesting contaminated water. Gastrointestinal issues are the most commonly reported symptoms of ingesting contaminated water. Onset of symptoms could take up to two weeks to appear after contact. People are encouraged to contact their medical provider if they notice changes in their health.

In addition to Idylwood Beach, Juanita Beach in Kirkland has been closed after high levels of E. coli bacteria were found in nearby waters.

E. coli levels often rise to levels that warrant beach closures during the summer at various beaches in Lake Washington. It is used to get a sense of how much bacteria is in the water since the county doesn’t have the resources to test for all the various bacteria in the lake. When E. coli levels are high, it’s assumed other bacteria levels are elevated as well.

E. coli levels are often increased due to a variety of factors and identifying a single source is often impossible, said Debra Bouchard, a water quality planner with King County.

“There’s so many factors that are tied in to any given beach at any given time,” Bouchard said.

Contamination can come from birds defecating in the water, streams bringing in fecal matter from upstream especially after rain or from dogs and toddlers pooping in the lake. The county monitors four beaches that have creeks nearby: Idylwood in Redmond, Juanita in Kirkland, Matthews in Seattle and Gene Coulon in Renton.

E. coli outbreaks may not be tied to water temperatures, and at least one study conducted on Lake Michigan found that more sunlight can actually help kill off E. coli. Bouchard said this was seen in 2015, a hot and dry year, when E. coli levels stayed relatively low.

Lake Washington is also prone to outbreaks of what is commonly called blue-green algae, which can create toxins. These outbreaks are also susceptible to a variety of factors such as how much phosphorus is in the water and if the wind is blowing it toward shorelines where it can accumulate.

Blue-green algae is actually a bacteria called cyanobacteria and is commonly found on land and in lakes, rivers and other bodies of water. Warm temperatures, sunlight and nutrient-rich water can cause these to reproduce quickly into what the Washington state Department of Health calls blooms. Lakes can become cloudy with algae in a matter of days as it floats to the surface. It can become several inches thick near shorelines.

Most of the time these are not toxic, but some blooms can make humans, pets and birds ill. Signs of these toxic blooms include dead animals, sudden and unexplained illness or deaths of animals and skin rashes on humans. These toxins eventually break down in the water, but during a bloom they can produce nerve and liver toxins.

Samples of algae can be sent to the state Department of Ecology for free testing. The number of reports of algae blooms has been increasing, but Bouchard said it wasn’t clear if this was due to an actual increase, or more people being aware of the blooms and reporting them.

For E. coli, Bouchard said people should obey restrictions and keep dogs out of the water near swimming beaches, not feed birds, use high-quality swim diapers for toddlers and babies and to shower before and after going in the lakes.

More information on water testing and beach closures can be found at the King County Swimming Beach data webpage.

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