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Keeping our waters safe

Lake Mead National Recreation Area prioritizes the safety of its visitors by conducting regular water testing at beaches and hot springs.

Our dedicated Biological Science Technician, Alex Popores, begins work at four-thirty a.m. on designated testing days. During the summer, from Memorial Day through Labor Day, Alex drives to each swimming beach to take samples. The samples are then tested for contaminants such as E. coli, fecal coliforms, and enterococcus, which can cause hazardous algae bloom.

From October through April, the focus shifts to testing each hot spring for E. coli, fecal coliforms, and enterococcus. Because samples must be tested within a specific timeframe, Alex uses a small boat to travel up the Colorado River to collect the samples. The team stops at each hot spring beach, and while wearing chest waders, Alex awkwardly hikes to each spring. Water testing is crucial as contamination has the potential to impact visitors negatively. This comprehensive water analysis aims to protect visitors from waterborne pathogens.

Based on the direction from the Centers for Disease Control, the park no longer tests for amoebas because being negatively impacted by them is such a rare occurrence. However, a risk still exists in waters across the United States. Naegleria fowleri, the brain-eating amoeba, can be found in waters between 80-115 degrees Fahrenheit. Balamuthia can be found in soil and ingested through wounds or breathed in as dust, which can cause a brain disease called encephalitis. A third amoeba, Acanthamoeba, can cause severe eye, skin, and nervous system infections. It is important to note that none of the amoebas have been linked to hot springs around Lake Mead.

Fecal coliforms are a much more likely cause of water contamination. According to the CDC, encountering E. coli can lead to diarrhea, vomiting, respiratory illness, and urinary tract infections. If exposed to open wounds, enterococcus can cause infection and fever. Though an unpopular decision for some die-hard hikers, Arizona Hot Springs was closed to keep guests safe from the hazards of a high level of human fecal coliform discovered in the man-made pools around the hot springs. NPS employees removed all sandbags that restricted water flow to mitigate the issue and ensured fecal bacteria levels were within safety parameters before opening back up on Nov. 16.

The takeaway is that Lake Mead offers many locations for enjoying the water. Guests should know the potential risk of waterborne pathogens in specific areas of the park when engaging in activities like submerging their head underwater after kicking up sediment from the water body floor. Updated information on specific areas can be found on the “Current Conditions” section of our web page at https://www.nps.gov/lake/planyourvisit/conditions.htm.

While the park diligently monitors water quality, it is essential to note that testing is periodic and takes up to forty-eight hours to receive the results. Lake Mead National Recreation Area is committed to caring for our aquatic environments. We take water quality seriously to ensure the safety of our visitors.

Thank you, Alex, for keeping our waters safe.

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