OLCOTT – Several times each summer, the beach at Krull Park on Lake Ontario in Olcott is closed to swimmers because of elevated levels of E. coli bacteria.
It happened for the first time this season Wednesday, and the shutdown lasted 24 hours.
Ask the Niagara County Health Department where the bacteria comes from, and it says it just doesn’t know, despite efforts to investigate in recent years.
Paul R. Dicky, the county environmental health director, said the testing of water samples shows the bacteria comes from a mix of human, bird and deer waste.
The beach is just east of the mouth of Eighteen Mile Creek. The City of Lockport’s sewage treatment plant discharges treated wastewater into that creek, but it’s 10 miles from Olcott, giving the wastewater plenty of time to thin out.
The creek is part of a federal Superfund site because of industrial pollution, but E. coli comes from the guts of warm-blooded animals.
There are two long piers in Olcott Harbor, heavily laden with seagull droppings. At one time, the droppings were thought to be the reason for the occasional high bacteria counts, but further testing showed they are at best partially responsible. DNA testing of the bacteria in 2013 showed geese, not seagulls, were the source of the avian waste.
As for the deer, Dicky just shrugs. There are no deer in the park. The DNA test results that ruled in deer and ruled out cows also ruled out agricultural runoff from farmers’ fields in Newfane as a source of the bacteria.
“We’re thinking hard about what the source could be,” he said.
“It could be related to marine traffic, porta-potties being dumped illegally,” Dicky speculated. “The facilities are better than they used to be, but that’s still a possibility. Then there’s the potential of illegal hookups to storm sewers – someone hooking up a septic system to a sewer.”
Dicky said he knows of no such illegal sewer connections in the Olcott area, but he said anyone who does have such information should call the Health Department at 439-7435.