Bald Knob officials have chosen to permanently close Bald Knob Lake to swimming a little over a week after a teenager was found to be infected with a parasite after swimming in the lake.
In a special meeting called Wednesday afternoon, the Bald Knob City Council approved an ordinance that prohibits the use of Bald Knob Lake for swimming “due to the recent development of unhealthy microorganisms being present.”
Anyone convicted of violating the ordinance by swimming in the lake will be fined $50 plus court costs for the first offense with any subsequent violation conviction to carry a fine of $100 plus court costs, according to the ordinance.
Mayor Barth Grayson said a lock was put on the gate leading to the lake Thursday as a precaution and there has been no swimming or fishing allowed for the past week and a half. However at 7 a.m. Thursday, the lake will open back up for fishing.
The council voted 6-0 at Monday night’s regular meeting to ban swimming in the lake, after Mayor Barth Grayson said he talked to the Arkansas Department of Health earlier in the day and shared “that information” with the council. The special meeting was called to pass the ordinance and set penalties for violators.
“It was always meant to be a fishing lake but with these microorganisms and E.coli ... it was never meant to be a swimming lake,” Grayson said of Bald Knob Lake.
“There’s septic systems out around the lake. There’s animals that have feces that get in the lake, and I’m talking about horses and cows and goats and because we are in the flyway of the Bald Knob National Wildlife Refuge, we have an abnormal amount of geese, ducks ... .”
He said the excrement from the migratory waterfowl “causes more than normal E.coli levels in Bald Knob Lake, so taking a responsible stance tonight, the council has closed Bald Knob Lake for swimming.”
He said microorganisms and parasites like the cryptospiridium that made the Bald Knob teen violently ill after she swam in the lake July 15, according to her mother, “were deemed to be carried by warm-blooded animals,” not fish that can be caught in the lake.
The mayor had temporarily closed the lake to both swimming and fishing on the advice of the Arkansas Department of Health, after the 13-year-old was diagnosed with cryptosporidiosis, the diarrheal disease caused by the waterborne parasite, two weekends ago at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock. April Young said her daughter “became violently ill with vomiting and diarrhea and slight low-grade temperature” and experienced extreme weight loss, dropping 25 pounds.
“She was so dehydrated,” Young said. “They gave her four bags of fluid.”
On Monday afternoon, Young said her daughter’s follow-up visit at Arkansas Children’s Hospital on Thursday “went well” as some of the symptoms of cryptosporidiosis had stopped. They were waiting on the results of another sample from her, Young said, “but she is doing much better.”
Bald Knob officials also took water samples to the Arkansas Department of Health last week, which showed that the lake contained E.coli; however, Grayson said the department doesn’t test for cryptosporidium so the sample would have to be sent to a European lab, which he said the city would not have done because of the high cost.
Grayson said that the city is assuming that cryptosporidium is present in the lake because of the teenager’s diagnosis. Young said Arkansas Children’s Hospital tested her daughter and found the cryptosporidium “automatically. The ICU doctor confirmed that it was cryptosporidium.”
Grayson said the health department also told him that all the other swim beaches in the state are registered and the department pulls samples from them on a regular basis, but Bald Knob Lake was not a “swim beach.” He said swimming has just been allowed at the lake, but it is really meant to be “a fishing lake.”
Arkansas Game and Fish Biologist Matt Schroeder, the District 10 fisheries supervisor in central Arkansas, confirmed that cryptospiridium cannot be obtained from eating fish from the lake.
“In terms of fish and you eating a fish that maybe was swimming in water that maybe has cryptosporidium,” Schroeder said, “you have to think, fish are going to be filleted and cooked thoroughly before being eaten and when that happens, you are killing any kind of pathogens like that that may be in the fish or on the fish.
“So really, the only way people could get it is if they are swimming in there; you know, they got their mouth open in the water or maybe even up their nose. If they accidentally take a snoot of water up their nose, they might be able to get it into their body that way, but eating fish is not a cause for concern.”
At the council meeting Monday night, Grayson said “this thing [cryptosporidium] has ascended over my world right here and I think we are doing the right thing, closing the lake down to swimming. From what I have learned about it, and I am trying to learn a lot, it is going to be there from time to time.”
Bald Knob Lake “has a huge water shed,” he said. “I’m talking about thousands of acres that run into Bald Knob Lake, and I know that. When my lakes overrun, they run into Bald Knob Lake. Plus, the overflow creek. I mean, you look at a map and see all that.”
Council member Mary Lou Smith said, “I don’t think they should swim out there and I never thought that should be allowed.” Smith said she and a friend drove to Bald Knob Lake about three or four weeks ago and there were about 25 “young kids in the water and two adults sitting up there. People take their kids out there and just let them out and leave them.”
Council member David Smith said “we also got a lot of people who go out there and tube and everything else.”
After the council unanimously voted to cease swimming at the lake, Bald Knob Police Chief Larry House asked “who is going to enforce it and what are you going to charge?” Councilman David Rutherford said, “the police department.”
Smith said the fine for those who disobey the city ordinance should be “$50 for the first offense per person and $100 second offense per person, not per family. If there are 10 out there and everybody is family, they all getting ticketed.”
Bald Knob Water Supervisor Andy Pistone said it would be wise to put up more than one “no swimming allowed” sign at the lake.
City Clerk-Treasurer Tammy Wools said, “I think one sign should be at the gate.” Grayson recommended that three 4-foot-by-8-foot signs be put up, including one at the spillway. The city also is ordering new gates.
Wools said that the city is “going to have to make a believer” out of those who swim in the lake, “because it is detrimental to their health.”
Council member Dennis Rutherford said, “It will be no mistake if the 4-by-8 signs say it.”