Watch CBS News

'The Public Needs To Know': High Levels Of E. Coli Bacteria Found In Echo Park Lake

ECHO PARK (CBSLA) — People are back out having fun on the swan boats and getting soaked under the fountain at Echo Park Lake, but is it safe?

Daily Life In Los Angeles Amid Coronavirus Outbreak
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JULY 05: People enjoy swan paddle boats at Echo Park Lake on July 05, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. The state has seen a spike in coronavirus cases due in part to people re-engaging in social activities. (Photo by Michael Tullberg/Getty Images)

Back in March, the Los Angeles Police Department removed hundreds of unhoused residents from the park before closing it for repairs and cleaning. The encampment had grown during the pandemic and, without enough restroom facilities at the park, the lake was often used as a toilet.

A report produced by the city and obtained by CBS Los Angeles showed bottles and bags of human waste retrieved from the lake. The report noted that "surely some" of the material had gone undetected and "became dissolved into the water."

Two months after its spring closure, Echo Park Lake was reopened with a full complement of boaters and fishermen visiting the lake daily. City workers even stood in the lake clearing weeds.

Shahram Kharaghani, acting assistant general manager of L.A. Sanitation and Environment, assured CBS Los Angeles that the water quality of the lake was good, but he confirmed that the city did not routinely test for bacteria.

Water samples collected by CBS Los Angeles were sent to a certified lab to be tested for E. coli, a bacteria found in human waste. One sample came back more than seven times higher than the state water quality standard for E. coli.

"Yes, those numbers are high," Dr. Samuel Dorevitch, an associate professor of health sciences, said. "Those numbers, if it were a swimming beach, would trigger like a red flag saying no swimming in here."

And while there is no swimming allowed in Echo Park Lake, people do come into contact with the water from the fountain or while fishing.

"If people are paddling and going past a fountain that is spraying aerosol of that water, I wouldn't say there's zero risk," Dorevitch said. "I think that there is risk."

And fishermen like Luis Guerra sometimes eat the fish they catch from the lake.

But Dr. Marc Kerner said people should "absolutely not" eat the fish from the lake and further said those who come into contact with the water could come down with intestinal infections or other problems.

"If they do come in contact with the water, they really need to was their hands aggressively afterward and try to avoid as much contact and absolutely do not ingest that water," he said.

State water quality standards require numerous rounds of testing over a four- to six-week period, and CBS Los Angeles only tested once. However, after first stating that the water quality was good, the city has since changed its tune.

"It would not be safe to drink the water, no," Kharaghani said. "It is not safe to swim in the water, no."

He also said he would recommend that people refrain from touching the water and then touching their faces and eating fish caught in the lake.

And while Kharaghani insisted that the park should stay open, he said that more signs could be posted warning people not to come into contact with the water.

It's a step that boaters like Denise Amiel, who spoke with CBS Los Angeles after getting off a swan boat with her friends, agreed with.

"We're going to go take a shower, wash off, and I pray that everything's OK, but I think that needs to be known," she said. "The public needs to know."

The city said it would now be routinely testing for bacteria counts and E. coli in the water and would be posting signs warning people of potential problems.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.