Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — More testing will be needed to pinpoint the source of e coli bacteria in the waters at Olcott Beach, after birds and humans were ruled out in a summertime study, the Niagara County Health Department disclosed Thursday.
The department was able to draw "good" samples of contaminated water only one day this past summer, on Aug. 6, to DNA-test the bacteria and determine its source. Samples were drawn from the mouth of the creek and two spots along the beach.
Analysis showed the source was not geese, seagulls or humans in any of the samples — but it didn't show with any certainty what the source is, Director of Environmental Health James Devald said. The results "point to an animal source of water contamination," such as cattle, goats, sheep or deer.
Having worked on a hunch the contamination is caused by seagulls, he said, the test results "really came back as a surprise to us."
One sample isn't definitive, however, Devald said — and further analysis would be needed to determine the type of animal, as well as how its waste is getting into the waters.
It's possible the source isn't animal either, Devald added. The most likely way animal waste would get to the beach is by runoff from farms, but fruit farming, not animal farming, dominates in the Eighteenmile Creek watershed.
"I don't think we know what the source is at this point," he said.
Bacteria could be breeding in the sediment and sand, algae and seaweed, in the creek and lake, Public Health Director Daniel Stapleton said.
The department ordered a swimming ban at Olcott Beach three times this summer, after routine water sampling turned up higher-than-acceptable bacteria levels, and staff noted that ahead of each closing, the wind had come from the north and was over 10 mph. Weather conditions might influence bacteria levels, Devald said. Staff are taking sediment samples this week to have its bacteria content measured and tested.
The state Health Department has agreed to fund additional DNA studies of bacteria in Olcott's waters next summer, Devald said.
The department is working with the Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Niagara County and New York State Farm Bureaus and the county Soil and Water Conservation District to investigate sources of animal waste in the watershed, he added.
Elected leaders of Newfane and the City of Lockport were alerted to the DNA study results earlier Thursday. Last year, Supervisor Tim Horanburg publicly blamed contamination of Olcott Beach on the city's wastewater (sewage) treatment operation, which in rare cases dumps untreated sewage into Eighteenmile Creek. Public health officials later said they highly doubted that was the source, because e coli can't survive the 13-mile trip downstream to Olcott, but Horanburg's charge still stung.
Mayor Michael Tucker said he was pleased, and not surprised, to hear the study results.
"We're exonerated," he said. "Our wastewater operation is highly regulated and it is always within the guidelines that were set for us. I'm glad to finally have it cleared up."