Million Dollar Beach should be closed for the rest of the summer to ensure the safety of local people and visitors who might otherwise choose to swim there.
The latest test results from this week, showing high bacteria counts again in the swimming area, should convince state officials that strong action to protect public health needs to be taken.
State officials closed the beach Wednesday afternoon, as they have several other times this summer and last summer. But past closures have been for a matter of days or even part of a day. After tests have shown bacteria back under an acceptable level, the beach has been reopened.
What is wrong with this procedure is that the tests cannot measure what will be in the water in the future, only what is in the water now. That means anyone swimming on the day the tests are done could be exposed to bacteria damaging to human health.
The bacteria has included E. coli, which in 1999 killed two people and sickened dozens more when drinking water at the Washington County Fair was contaminated.
Closing a beach is bad for the tourist business that sustains the Lake George region. We understand that. But making a beachgoer seriously ill from contaminated lake water would be worse.
Publicity that contamination forced the closure of a public beach doesn’t help efforts to promote our region as a fun summer destination. But Lake George has other beaches, and the publicity that would result if people were to get sick — when local officials knew there was an ongoing risk — could damage the village’s reputation for years.
The prudent course is to close the beach and not to reopen it immediately after bacteria levels go down. State and local officials have been working to discover the contamination’s cause, but they haven’t succeeded. They found a broken sewer pipe off Beach Road last month and fixed it, but bacteria counts went back up anyway.
It may be that several causes are contributing to the problem — lakeside septic systems, heavy rains, dogs in parks near the lake. The mayor keeps pushing his birds theory — seagulls this time (wasn’t it geese last time?)
These are the salient facts: Officials don’t know the cause, and the problem hasn’t gone away.
It seems to us Lake George has gotten lucky so far. No one that we know of has reported a child having to be taken to the emergency room after swimming. No one has talked about getting a nasty infection.
But these things can happen, and later, lawsuits can be filed.
We can understand the reluctance of local officials to declare their most prominent tourist beach off-limits. But we’re surprised at the indecisiveness of the state. If it isn’t a risk to public health now to keep the beach open then when will it be?
After several bad tests stretching back to last summer and multiple failed attempts to fix the problem, the beach should be closed until everyone is certain the water is safe.