High E. coli level found in Lake of the Ozarks

Thursday, September 10, 2009 | 6:19 p.m. CDT; updated 9:48 a.m. CDT, Thursday, October 1, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY — A water sample taken this week from the Lake of the Ozarks showed a high level of E. coli, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources reported Thursday.

The sample was taken Tuesday from Laurie Hollow on the Osage River Arm north of Missouri 5. Fifty water samples were taken this week from the lake, and only the one from Laurie Hollow was high. In that sample, the E. coli level exceeded standards for swimming.

A July sample from Laurie Hollow also was high, and the state agency said it would start inspecting facilities with wastewater treatment permits in the cove's watershed to determine if any were contributing to high bacteria levels.

The Lake of the Ozarks is a popular Midwest tourist destination about an hour southwest of Jefferson City that is created by a dam owned by St. Louis-based utility Ameren Corp. Water sampling on the lake is part of a five-year study to evaluate water quality, funded by annual payments by the utility of $15,000.

E. coli can cause flu-like illnesses and even death in people infected through open cuts or when it is swallowed.

The Department of Natural Resources has faced criticism and inquiries this year about the delayed release of results from E. coli tests conducted in May. Those results showed bacteria levels were high in more than half of the 60 samples and were 19 times higher in two. The findings were not released until late June.

The DNR initially told The Kansas City Star that test results were withheld because of concerns that it could harm tourism and businesses around the lake. Department officials have since said the report should have been available immediately.

A Senate environment committee is investigating why the May test results were not released sooner and is trying to determine whether changes are needed to state laws or policies.

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