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Cedar Lane and Beatty Road map

A map showing the vicinity of where the Lake George Association is conducting bacterial testing, a potential source of E.coli that sometimes spikes in the Million Dollar Beach swimming area.

Last year, Million Dollar Beach had four separate closures, some lasting multiple days, because of high levels of E.coli. This year, the beach closed just two times.

While that’s good news, state and local environmental groups are still trying to track down where the bacteria spikes are coming from.

The Lake George Association is investigating a potential source in an open channel between Cedar Road and Beatty Lane, not far from the beach. But Randy Rath, project manager for the association, told members of the Warren County Water Quality Strategy Committee Wednesday that finding exactly where it’s coming from is tricky.

“It’s like a murder mystery, and everybody is waiting for the next chapter,” said Stephen Ehlers, of the East Shore Schroon Lake Association, following Rath’s presentation about the bacteria testing this summer and fall.

Rath agreed.

“It’s like watching the end of a season finale,” he said. “You end a TV show, and you don’t get the answer until like six months later. I apologize for that.”

E.coli is found in human feces, and exposure can cause diarrhea, nausea and abdominal cramps.

The beach, which is owned and operated by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, first had issues with E.coli spikes in 2016. That continued in 2017. The closures, Rath said, were written up in the New York Times, and some people thought that since Million Dollar Beach was closed, all of Lake George was closed, too.

The village cleaned out its stormwater collection basins, which hadn’t been cleaned in about five years. Rath said the water in them was dark and “smelled awful.” Once they were clear, the bacteria levels went down.

With the help of K9 units that can sniff out human feces, Rath said the Lake George Association is also zeroing in this year on the Cedar Lane and Beatty Road open channel as a potential source linked to the beach. The association sampled every 20 feet or so in the area during multiple days this summer and into the fall. A lab at the Darrin Freshwater Institute in Bolton has processed those samples, showing significant bacteria spikes.

There’s not an obvious source, Rath said, but he’s planning to partner with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to use ground penetrating radar. That could help find an underground source of E.coli pollution.

For now, however, the investigation continues.

The beach had a better season than last year, only closing on June 9 and July 7. The DEC said attendance was up this year, too, from about 63,685 visitors last year, to 87,656 visitors this year.

“The state’s departments of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Health (DOH) have worked tirelessly with Warren County, the town and village of Lake George, the Lake George Association (LGA), and other local partners to investigate, identify, and prevent potential sources of pathogens from impacting the lake,” the DEC said in an emailed statement to The Post-Star. “DEC and our partners have acted to track down and eliminate potential sources of bacteria, which has contributed to fewer closures and improvements this year.”

Besides the stormwater collection basin cleanup, the DEC said video inspections of sanitary and stormwater lines servicing the area have led to needed maintenance and repairs. The state also awarded the town $343,000 as part of the Clean Water Infrastructure Act, $100,000 for an engineering planning grant and $120,000 from the Water Quality Improvement Project program to assist with repairing its sewage collection system.

While daily bacteria testing has stopped at the beach, DEC said it will resume testing prior to opening the swim area next year.

“DEC will continue to routinely sample and monitor the water quality of the beach and will take all precautions to ensure public protections are in place based on science,” the agency added.

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Reporter Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (518) 742-3238 or gcraig@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1.

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