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Opinion: Table Rock Lake flooding won't slow tourism

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In late April, I was sitting by a campfire on the shore of Table Rock Lake with family and friends. There were a few dark clouds in the sky with some lightning visible. Who knew that only a few days later, I would be writing an article dealing with a record-setting flood event?

Each year, Ozarks Water Watch publishes a Status of the Watershed report designed to answer the question, “How’s the water?” But after a severe flood, many people – especially potential visitors to our area, wonder – “How is the water … now?” “Is the lake safe to swim in?” “Should we come to Table Rock, Beaver or Bull Shoals lakes on our family vacation?”

I know they ask these questions because three years ago after the 2008 flood, my phone started ringing and these were the questions I was being asked. People called from Illinois, Iowa, Kansas City and St. Louis. I thought I would answer some of these questions now, before tourist season hits, and maybe we all can be ready with the answers.

The big flush
A big rain event causes a big flush. All sorts of things that normally stay on land are flushed into our waterways and make their way down stream. A lot of these things have flowed past my house on Table Rock Lake – trees, wood debris, trash such as Styrofoam bottles, and soil. The lake is a very dark brown color due to the sediment carried into the water. My young granddaughter calls it chocolate water.

But let’s talk about the things in the water you cannot see.

During the first big flush, bacteria is carried into the water. I am sure you have heard of E. coli from such sources as septic systems and animal waste. And there are chemicals washed off of parking lots and other areas.

While that first flush of water is not something you would want to swim in, already the sediment is settling out, the sunlight is killing the E. coli bacteria, and the chemicals are being diluted by the huge volume of water.

Tourist time
In just a few weeks, just in time for tourist season, the lake will be ready for us. While there still may be high water, it will, for the most part, be safe water. And what I mean by “for the most part” is that lake water is not treated with chlorine like a swimming pool. In any natural water, there is always a chance of getting an earache or an eye infection. But the chance of that will be no greater a month after the flood than it was last year when you were swimming in the lake.

And I will be enjoying the water soon with my family. Some may say, “Just because you are crazy enough to get in the water, do you really know the E. coli levels are safe?” So in 2008, well after the big flood event but while the water was still very high, I went around to various locations on the lake and took water samples and had them tested for E. coli at the local health department. Not one sample came back with unsafe levels of E. coli. Again, with natural waters, you can never say never, but what I am saying is that by the time the lake water warms up, it will be ready for visitors to dive in and swim, just like it is every year. And my family will be among the first ones to get wet.

I do want to say that our thoughts and prayers go out to those whose lives have been affected by this record-setting flood event throughout Missouri and Arkansas and even nationwide. May God bless you as you begin the process to rebuild and restore.

David Casaletto is president and executive director of Kimberling City-based Ozarks Water Watch, a nonprofit water quality organization. He can be reached at dcasaletto@ozarkswaterwatch.org.[[In-content Ad]]

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