Frequently Asked Questions

Why does Wake County sample recreational waters for elevated levels of E. coli and Enterococci bacteria?
Pursuant to EPA recommendations, Wake County adopted Regulations Governing Public Recreational Waters and Beaches in 2000, to protect swimmers from bacteria in recreational water. These regulations establish levels of indicator bacteria, E. coli and Enterococci, which should not be exceeded in order to protect swimmers.
Most disease-causing microbes exist at very low levels and are difficult and expensive to detect. Indicator organisms are used to help identify where fecal contamination has occurred and, therefore, where disease-causing microbes may be present. Both bacteria are found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals, which includes humans.
What recreational swimming areas does Wake County sample?
Wake County Environmental Services samples the following public and privately owned recreational swimming areas for bacteria:
Harris Lake
Lake Wheeler
Falls Lake (including Beaverdam, Sandling, Holly Point beaches)
Camp Kanata
New Life Camp
Umstead Park (Camp Crabtree and Camp Lapihio)
Why does Wake County not sample Rolling View beach?
Wake County only samples recreational waters within Wake County's jurisdiction. Rolling View Beach is located in Durham County.
What are the water quality standards for E. coliform and Enterococci?
E. coliform: No single sample shall exceed 235 colonies per 100 ml.
Enterococci: No single sample shall exceed 61 colonies per 100 ml.
How often does Wake County sample?
Wake County samples all swimming beaches weekly from May through September. In addition, ambient samples are taken at Falls Lake and Harris Lake every other week. Generally, samples are taken on Mondays and Tuesdays.
When does Wake County order the temporary closure of recreational waters to swimming and wading?
When a single sample exceeds the water quality standard for Enterococci and/or E. coliform, Wake County orders closure of the water contact area and daily resampling commences immediately. Reopening of closed areas will be approved when two consecutive samples taken at least 24 hours apart indicate that bacterial concentrations are lower than the single sample limits.
Can I still fish, boat and swim in areas of Falls Lake when one of the swimming beaches is closed?
If one of the swimming beaches is closed due to elevated levels of bacteria, only the beach itself is closed for recreational use.
How does a person become ill from contaminated water?
The main route of exposure to illness causing organisms in recreational water is through direct contact with polluted water while swimming, most commonly through accidental ingestion.
What are the symptoms of illness from contact with contaminated water?
Please see the link on the homepage for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for details of symptoms. The most common symptom is an upset stomach from ingesting contaminated water.
What should I do if I am exhibiting symptoms of illness after swimming in a contaminated area?
Should you or your family be experiencing negative health effects you believe may be linked to the ingestion of water containing elevated levels of bacteria, please contact your primary care physician.
The general number for Community Health, Communicable Disease, is 919-250-4462. This is not a clinic and cannot diagnose illnesses.
My family is planning to swim at a local lake, what should I know before we go?
Please contact the individual beach prior to your outing to ensure that the swimming area is open.
Also note that bacteria naturally occurs in all water resources. Families should refrain from drinking or swallowing water from these sources. It is also a good practice to wash your hands after swimming in natural water bodies.
A person with open wounds does risk infection of the wound if contacted with bacteria.
What is the cause of high bacteria results?
Wake County does not test to determine the source of bacteria. Waterbodies may be impacted by varying sources of fecal pollution: human and animals (both domestic and wildlife).
Generally, Enterococci and E. coliform are both found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals. Many lakes have substantial goose populations in the area in addition to other warm-blooded animal populations. Bacteria settles to the bottom. Swimmers inevitably stir up this bacteria from the bottom. Swimmers are prohibited from allowing diaper-wearing children to swim. Septic tanks in need of maintenance or repair may also contribute to increased bacteria. Highly urbanized areas generate more stormwater than undeveloped areas and can also impact downstream lakes and water bodies.