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Why the water you swim in this summer may not be tested for bacteria

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Posted at 5:04 PM, Jun 18, 2024

PUEBLO COUNTY, Colo. — Lake Pueblo State Park sees more than three million visitors annually, making it the busiest state park in Colorado.

"We love coming out here, we buy our Park Pass every year, and we bring the kids out as much as possible," Casey Parker said, who is one of the millions making their way to the park.

With the large crowds, park leaders wanted to find a way to get people to other parts of the park. That's part of the reason the park introduced "Kestrel Pond" this

"They like, this [Kestrel Pond] floor bottom better than the general lake itself, cause the general lake itself is a little icky," Parker said, she and her family brought floating devices to spend some time on the water.

The area, previously known as Rock Canyon Swim Beach or "swim beach", allows people to swim, paddleboard, kayak, and canoe. Motorized vessels are not permitted in the area.

"For people that have been in Pueblo a long time, they remember it with the water slides and with, you know, 3,000 people here, and one of the things we found over time is that it got less and less used," Joe Stadterman, Park Manger for Lake Pueblo State Park said.

When the area was known as swim beach, it was exclusive to swimming, which meant the park was required to test for bacteria like e.coli and giardia. Current regulations under the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) only apply to "natural swimming areas" which are defined as places separate from a body of water exclusive to swimming, bathing, or wading. The area must also require a fee for use to fall under the definition. CDPHE said a park entrance fee could count as a fee.

CDPHE did not agree to an on-camera interview for this story.

"If we designate a place for people to swim where we charge a fee, we make a very small area where people where we exclusively allow swimming, then we fall under the CDPHE regulation," Stadterman said.

In 2021, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission also changed its rules to allow swimming in most bodies of water in state parks. Previously, swimming in state parks was limited to designated swimming areas. However, the commission acknowledged in a rule change, enforcement was inconsistent.

"What we found is in 2021, when the Parks and Wildlife Commission changed the swimming regulation, [is] that this part of the park [Kestrel Pond] just didn't get used and so by opening this property to more uses, we don't fall under that CDPHE regulation, and it's managed much more like any of the other water that CPW controls," Stadterman said.

Kestrel Pond has also become a popular area for geese to wander and wade. Stadterman said it's because geese spend the winter in the area and there are no natural predators. Stadterman said there are plans to try and mitigate the geese population by removing fences and gates in the area.

"What that's doing is that's introducing natural predators to some of the animals that live here to help combat some of those kind of issues," Stadterman said.

So, is the water safe? It comes down to a personal assessment of risk.

"Whether you're in a high mountain lake or a pond here in Pueblo, you don't know what's in the water, and we know that. That's one of the realities of swimming in natural water," Stadterman said.

CDPHE did acknowledge in an email to News5 if an area doesn't meet its definition of a natural swimming area, they are not required to conduct water quality sampling. CDPHE also said people can take precautions such as not swallowing the water, don't swim with open wounds, and shower after swimming.


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