Mistake at the lake
FGCU tests water quality for the first time in 15 years
Published: Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 23:09
Florida Gulf Coast University students have enjoyed the waterfront at North Lake Village for 15 years. And for nearly 15 years, the university didn’t test the water to see if it passed health-code swimming standards.
The FGCU Department of Campus Recreation didn’t start checking Lake Como for bacteria -- specifically feces -- until March of this year, when it reopened after a student’s death and renovations to the facilities.
Last month Eagle News tested the lake and found three different forms of feces.
But Eagle News’ findings passed health department standards for public-bathing permits.
“There is a limit on the amount of entero you can have in the lake,” said Jerry Ma, with Lee County’s Environmental Engineering Department, and if the limits exceed the test results, “you shouldn’t be swimming in it.”
In June of 2011, senior Joel Johnson drowned in the lake. The drowning happened after hours, and resulted in the lake closing for the following nine months. However, the university said the lakefront was scheduled for renovation in order to gain public-bathing permits.
“The county approached the university [for permitting and testing reasons],” said Assistant Director of FGCU’s Campus Recreation Facility Operations, Suzanne Ries.
For $20 and the help of Lee County Health Department, Eagle News conducted a similar test on Aug. 8. The health department provided a cup that contained a small tablet. The water was poured into the sample cup to ensure the tablet did not fall out. The sample was kept on wet ice, and was tested within six hours.
The health department tests most lakes for the quality of drinking water; FGCU’s lake is used only for bathing purposes.
Ma said, “The question is, is (the lake) acceptable for bathing?”
Campus Recreation Director Amy Swingle said it was coincidence this happened just before the lakefront was scheduled for closing and renovation.
She said a county health inspector saw FGCU students swimming in the lake while conducting an inspection of Miramar’s lakefront. The inspector then informed FGCU about the appropriate permits.
“We couldn’t continue to run the lakefront as normal without the permits,” Swingle said. “In order to gain the permit, we had to put in permanent restrooms.”
Test samples had to be conducted in the swimming areas to comply with public bathing codes. This resulted in the quite smaller, rectangular swimming area; there were no limits before.
Ries said they knew the water could not be contaminated before testing began because Miramar Lakes treats the water.
“The university was operating as Miramar Lakes did,” Ries said.
Ries said all the recent protocols happened simultaneously; they had to start testing the lake in order to keep it open to students.
The school tests the lake toward the end of each month; they send their samples to the Lee County Health Department and oblige to the standards the county advises them. But, along with other hazards in Florida lakes, there is another concern: the public’s safety when encountering marine wildlife.
“Lakes are very unpredictable and affected by the surrounding attributes,” Ma said.
It is always important to keep a cautious eye for water moccasins and alligators when swimming in any lake in Florida, including FGCU’s lake.
Miramar Lakes does take proper actions when they spot alligators. The development contacts the proper wildlife agency, and the gator is relocated to a different wild habitat; in some cases, proper precautions will be carried out if the alligator seems to be a threat to the life of other animals or humans.
Ries does not think the wildlife would affect the FGCU students, or anyone swimming in the lake. She says the wildlife is more afraid of the population, and they tend to avoid any recreational activity happening across the lake.
Without question, FGCU’s lakefront is a safe and clean lake for canoeing, paddle boarding, wake boarding, or any other recreational watersport worth performing during a nice Florida day. But, FGCU’s Recreation Department can only keep the lake as clean as it is with help of the students and patrons who utilize it.
“A partnership with the students equals a clean lake,” Ries said.
She asks that all students who visit the lake make use of the waste receptacles to dispose of trash and the restrooms to relieve bodily functions.
Visit doh.state.fl.us and click the swimming pools link under the A-Z topics for more information regarding cleanliness codes for lakes and swimming areas.