The swimming area at Beaverfork Lake's park has been closed after water there tested for E. coli.
The city government suspects geese and ducks that hang around the park near the water's edge eating scraps are responsible for the lower-intestine-dwelling bacteria, and not the park bathroom.
The swimming area was closed during Memorial Day weekend in 2010 after E. coli was detected. A leaking septic system at one of the bathrooom's parks was fixed and anti-waterfowl measures were taken (including a border collie that was put on goose patrol). It was deemed safe to open again in time for the 4th of July weekend that year.
Since the 2010 closing, city Chief of Staff Jack Bell said, Beaverfork Lake park staff have sprayed "grape extract" at the beach to keep geese and ducks away. Beaverfork Lake park director James Burnside said the spray contains Methyl Anthranilate (MA), and it "seems to work great [at repelling birds], but we've had a lot of rain lately and it's hard to spray when it's raining every other day."
MA is a compound that occurs naturally in grape seeds and in some other plants. The Federal Food and Drug Administration classifies MA as fit for consumption as human food and the European Food Safety Authority has found that synthesized MA "is essentially the same as that in food," and approves its use in non-avian animal feed. A USDA study has found MA to kill fish in high doses, but that when used as a bird repellent "the outlook for methyl anthranilate as an environmentally safe [bird] repellent looks good." According to literature from several companies that market the compound as repellent, it works as a nasal irritant with non-lethal neurotoxicity that seemingly only effects birds.
The toilet with the faulty septic tank (the one near the park's entrance) has been closed since 2010, and another near the boat ramp area has been closed for months while a new one is rebuilt. The only open bathroom near the beach uses a storage tank, not a septic tank. There isn't any reason to think the storage tank is leaking, Burnside said, and so he thinks human waste contamination can be ruled out.
The Arkansas Department of Health samples water in public swimming areas. The test was done early last week, Bell said, and the swimming area was closed on Friday when the results came back.
It takes two consecutive days of clean samples to re-open a public swimming area, Bell said.