WOLFEBORO — With swimming mask and snorkel in hand on a scorching Friday afternoon, Sewall Road area resident Sky King prepared for his daily three-quarter mile swim off Carry Beach on Lake Winnipesaukee.
Conditions were ideal on this sizzling summer day with no rain in sight and cool, clear water that beckoned to overheated beach dwellers. With temperatures soaring and expected to continue to be hot through the start of this week, many Granite Staters and vacationers are heading to the water.
"I love this beach," said King, 61, who has been swimming in Lake Winnipesaukee for many years. Carry Beach is one of the state's 163 public freshwater beaches monitored periodically for bacteria levels through the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services Freshwater Public Bathing Beach Inspection Program. According to recent tests, the waters here were clear of any elevated levels of fecal bacteria. However, a sign at the entrance does warn swimmers about a perpetual threat of so-called "duck itch" — a rash that can occur when water is contaminated with duck feces.
King himself was afflicted with the itchy rash once after he didn't dry off after one of his swims, and the bacteria apparently infected his skin.
"I got it extremely bad though one year — all over my entire body," he said.
However, the incident does not keep him away from the beach and his daily swim.
"I see a difference in water quality, in the color. It's greener than it used to be and I understand that's not a good thing," he said. "But I do think overall the water quality is fine."
Nearby, Matt and Cassi Gifford of Manchester prepared to haul a large, round inflatable float into Lake Winnipesaukee to cool off in the water.
"I've been coming here since I was a baby," said Cassi. Carry Beach is one of the few public town beaches where floatation toys are allowed. At the beach entrance, a sign asks the public to adhere to a list of more than a dozen health and safety rules, including a request for those with communicable diseases to stay out of the water, a reminder against going to the bathroom in the water, and another prohibiting the use of soap to bathe in the lake.
The Giffords acknowledged they were confident about water quality at the beach overall.
Would they go swimming here if an E.coli advisory posted?
"Yeah, I would," said Matt. "Stuff like that doesn't bother me. E.coli has been around for a long time."
In other parts of the state on Friday, only a few freshwater beaches in the state registered high enough levels of bacteria to warrant an advisory to swimmers. Those included: Crescent Drive Beach on Halfmoon Lake in Barnstead; Bartlett Town Beach on Lake Winnisquam in Laconia; Colony Beach on Locke Lake in Barnstead; Moose Brooke State Park beach in Gorham; Libby Town Pool at the Peabody River in Gorham; and Tuttle Brook at the Twin Mountain Recreation Area in Carroll.
Earlier in the week, an advisory was issued for Wentworth State Park beach on Lake Wentworth, but the advisory was lifted upon satisfactory results after retesting. Conditions change frequently. So often, in fact, that the state set up a Twitter feed to alert interested parties whenever water quality alerts are posted or withdrawn. Readers can also obtain the latest results from any monitored beach by visiting the website, http://des.nh.gov/organization/divisions/water/wmb/beaches/index.htm.
According to the most recent annual report of summer sampling in 2012, a number of beaches had more than 20 days on which E.coli advisories were posted. The beaches with the most posted days include Beard's Brook Town Beach in Hillsborough, 30 days; Robinson Pond Town Beach in Hudson, 25 days; Cove Beach at Opechee Park in Laconia, 29 days; Pine Acres Campground in Raymond, 20 days; and the Sand Dam Recreation Area in Troy, 21 days. The lakes with the most cyanobacteria advisories in 2012 include Showell Pond in Sandown, 67 days posted, and Silver Lake in Hollis, 33 days posted. Long Pond received cyanobacteria warnings.
Sonya Carlson, the Public Beach Inspection Program coordinator with the state Department of Environmental Services Water Division, said personnel monitor about 163 freshwater public bathing beaches on a monthly basis, and 16 coastal beaches on a weekly or bi-weekly basis during the swim season. Beach inspectors collect two to five bacteria samples from each beach depending upon the length of the bathing area.
Carlson said beaches are not inspected more frequently during a heat wave — the program has little personnel and a heavy workload for periodic testing of 163 beaches. She also said rain, rather than heat, has more of an effect on bacteria levels. Rain is more likely to carry fecal bacteria, which creates E.coli, from a number of sources — wild and domestic animals, humans, problematic septic systems, ducks — into the lakes, thereby increasing bacteria levels which can cause gastrointestinal illness.
In 2012, DES personnel performed 571 beach inspections at 160 freshwater beaches during the 11 weeks from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
In advance of the 2013 testing season, the DES Beach Program has also created online tools. A map searchable by town on the beach advisory page to show where current advisories are located can be accessed at: www2.des.state.us/WaterShed_BeachMaps/WaterShed_BeachMaps.aspz.
An individual report is available for each freshwater beach through the OneStop Beach Search tool at www2.des.state.nh.us/DESOnestop/BasicSearch.aspx.