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Durham to post new signs advising Falls Lake beachgoers

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By Memorial Day weekend, visitors to parts of Falls Lake may see new signs advising them of public health and water quality issues.

The Durham County Board of Health voted unanimously last Thursday to implement a water quality education and signage program for the beach at Rolling View Recreation Area at Falls Lake. The county will work with the Falls Lake State Recreation Area staff to determine the requirements for the signs, including where they must be posted.

As reported in the May 4 edition of the Indy ("Who's responsible for the Falls Lake mess?"), Durham previously did not alert Falls Lake beachgoers to health or water concerns, although Wake County does. Its signs announce water quality problems, beach closures and a prohibition on infants and toddlers who are still in diapers from entering the water.

As a result, when Wake County closed its beaches, visitors often went to the Durham side of the lake, which is often even more polluted.

Eric Ireland, deputy health director with the Durham County Department of Public Health, said officials would like to have signs posted before the busy Memorial Day weekend; a water-testing program is to come later.

Both Wake and Chatham counties test waters at Falls Lake and Jordan Lake beaches for public health hazards such as fecal coliforms, E. coli and enterococci—bacteria that can make people sick. Wake County implemented its plan in 2000 and continues to test the beaches at Falls Lake weekly from May through September. When a violation is noted, the county tests the beach daily until two consecutive tests at least 24 hours apart pass water quality standards. (Check www.wake.gov for beach conditions.) In Wake County laboratory tests for the Recreational Monitoring Program exceed $10,000 annually.

Ireland said that the Durham County public health leadership team "thought it was of the utmost importance to do an education and awareness program," adding "there were no signs posted at the beach with regard to the risk involving swimming in recreational waters from a public health standpoint."

Ireland couldn't say when the testing program would begin, but members of the technical staff will consult with Wake and Chatham counties to estimate the cost and personnel requirements. Once those numbers are gathered, the health board will review them.

Ireland said, the tests are only "a reflection of what the [hazard] levels are at that particular moment in time at that particular location. The levels are subject to change as soon as we grab the sample. And they can be influenced by a number of things, rainwater runoff, wildlife in and around the lake, and also, even stirring up sediment from the bottom of the lake when we go out to sample."

The county hopes the "public will pay heed to [the signs] and read them, and keep in mind that they will be swimming at their own risk, and that they will take the information to heart and protect themselves accordingly," Ireland said.

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