Is It Safe to Swim in Local Lakes and Streams?

Swimming in a clean, clear lake is an exhilarating experience. But direct contact with water-borne bacteria, toxic algae and other contaminants can cause serious illness.

Pollutants can flow into our streams and lakes, causing the growth of algae and bacteria that makes swimming unsafe for people and their pets. The Centers for Disease Control list various illnesses, rashes, infections and other ailments that can result when people swim in contaminated water.

As part of our StreamWatch water monitoring program, The Watershed Institute assesses bacteria levels at 14 locations across our region. We seek to better understand the sources of bacteria where it occurs and design and implement strategies to address the problem.

Only about 25 percent of New Jersey’s water currently is deemed safe for recreation based on monitoring of E.coli, according the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Water Monitoring and Standards.

For the last 11 years, we’ve worked with organizers of the Hightstown Triathlon to test the water in Peddie Lake in advance of weekly training swims. Triathlon volunteers collect water samples each week during the summer and bring it to the Watershed’s lab to be tested for disease-causing bacteria. There were several years from 2011-2014 when we found high levels of E.coli, and many of the training swims were canceled. Over the past few summers, including this year, bacteria levels have been safe enough for swimmers to practice.