Health Director Donna Culbert said she saw no need to waste money ordering bacteria testing for Eichler's Cove on Tuesday because she knew the count from the day before was so high, the health hazard unlikely would have abated in a day.
However, two days later and the counts have not significantly decreased, Culbert said. That means Eichler's Cove will remain closed until at least Saturday. Officials have closed the beach for nine days in a row due to high bacteria counts. The closure could stretch out for longer.
"I want to be optimistic but I have a feeling it's going to be a slow process," Culbert said.
Samples of the beach water will be taken on Friday and town officials will decide on Saturday whether the bacteria counts have abated enough to open the area to swimming.
"I say that with the greatest of hesitation," Culbert said of potentially opening the beach on Saturday.
Samples of the water taken Wednesday show that bacteria counts are well in excess of 1,000 colonies of fecal coliform per 100 milliliters of water. Regulations say that swimming water should only have a maximum of 235 colonies per 100 milliliters of water.
The beach has been closed since last Friday after significantly high levels of bacteria were detected. Officials said they suspect they have a longer-term problem on their hands and that it may be due to the Canada geese living in the area.
"Even if they are not accessing the beach, they are still in the water, they're still defecating," she said.
Deputy Land Use Director Rob Sibley said a fairly large population of ducks and geese live on the Monroe side of Lake Zoar.
"There are three to four dozen birds sitting on the docks hanging out," he said. "We've had a lot of birds come from that area."
Sibley said he is contacting officials from the state Department of Environmental Protection for more guidance on what to do to deter the birds from the area.
"This is not unusual for the geese, but it is fairly unusual for this size water body," Sibley said.
He said the cove is a part of a larger water body, and in such cases, bacterial concentrations tend to dissipate quickly but that doesn't appear to be the case here. Part of the problem may be due to the way water circulates, Sibley said, adding that it is affected by the dam upstream.
"It's not a true river," he said, adding that at times, the dam operation has allowed less water downstream. "That's one of the reasons we're seeing it back up rather than going downstream."
Also depending on the weather, the situation might change, officials said. For instance, a heavy downpour of rain might help clear the bacteria contamination from the cove, Sibley said.
Whatever the cause, officials said they want to investigate the problem further because it may lead to longer term decisions regarding whether Eichler's Cove is a good swimming area.
Officials said they don't have enough scientific data to understand the factors affecting water quality. The cove beach has been open to swimming for only two years. Problems with high bacteria counts first appeared last year but only toward the end of the season. This latest case will allow officials to better assess the situation.
Editor's note: This article has been updated with results from samples taken on Wednesday. The results were ready as of Thursday.