Swimming is discouraged this holiday weekend at three of Iowa’s 38 state park beaches. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources started its summer long monitoring of the state beaches this week and will post the results on the agency’s website every Thursday or Friday. Coordinator Jason McCurdy says bacteria levels can change rapidly. “Each watershed has its own unique characteristics; some are more prone to heavy rainfall events than others which can often wash in a lot of that bacteria from surrounding watersheds,” McCurdy said. “We have some problem beaches that tend to run high throughout the season but those change over time as well.”
Beeds Lake in north-central Iowa, Emerson Bay on West Okoboji and Nine Eagles in south-central Iowa all exceeded state standards for bacteria in the first week of testing. The state has posted signs that read “swimming is not recommended” at those beaches. McCurdy says even if there’s no sign posted it’s a good idea to avoid ingesting the water and to shower after swimming. “It’s good to just kind of always exercise that caution,” McCurdy said. “Assume it is probably safe to swim, but always use those precautions just in case the bacteria levels have elevated since the last sample was collected.”
The DNR also posts results for 30 to 40 city and county managed beaches, but McCurdy says not all local governments choose to participate in the voluntary monitoring program. He says if your favorite beach isn’t on the list it likely hasn’t been tested. McCurdy says analyzing test results from the past decade shows Iowa’s state park beaches are usually safe for swimming, only exceeding acceptable bacteria levels approximately 10% of the time.