It has come to our attention that there is some concern over the water quality at the Salem Pond, site of the swim portion of the Salem Spring Triathlon. After reviewing the data from the State and discussing at length with the Utah Division of Water Quality we feel confident that despite the reported issues of water quality at Salem Pond, that the water in Salem Pond is safe for swimming.
The Salem Pond is a spring-fed pond and state testing of the spring water has shown that it is clean with no detectable traces of bacteria, suitable for culinary use. That being said, the geographic features of the pond lead to it being a fairly stagnant piece of water with little drainage. As a result, there is a buildup of some bacteria in localized sections of the pond. Until last year, no state testing had been conducted on the quality of the water in Salem Pond. There has been no change in decades to the geographic features or the make up of the water in the pond. We have held a triathlon in that pond for nearly 10 years with not one single instance of illness associated with the water quality.
Last year the state began testing various reservoirs and ponds around the state. On May 31, 2010, only five days before last year’s event, a sample collected from the beach area of the Salem Pond showed as clean. One week later, two days after the triathlon, they tested the beach area and it resulted in bacteria levels above tolerance. As I understand it, the presence of 500 swimmers running up and over the beach and stirring up the sediment in that area, is the likely culprit for the sudden increase in bacteria levels at the beach. They have continued to test the beach area throughout the year, with the vast majority of the samples coming back clean (88 out of 115 samples). Additionally, the state began testing water in the North Arm of the Pond and the South Arm of the Pond. The South Arm of the pond is where the majority of the swim portion takes place. The beach area is responsible for the vast majority of the contaminated samples.
As a USAT certified race director, I have been instructed that water samples should never be taken from the beach area, as it is always the place where bacteria tends to thrive and beach samples are therefore not representative of the water quality as a whole. There are a couple of reasons for this: 1, higher water temperatures in shallow water; 2, congregation of people and waterfowl near the beach areas; and 3, bacteria tends to grow in clumps and not evenly dispersed throughout the water. At my request the state ran a test of the beach area and other areas of the pond on 4/28/2011 that came back as clean (the state established threshold is 409 – above that is bad, below is good). They will be testing again in mid-May and June 2, 2011, two days before the race to ensure that the water is clean. We will be posting the results of those tests to our website in the run up to the event.
Any good Boy Scout would tell you that drinking lake or river water carries with it all sorts of risk, to that end, we at RaceTri definitely do not suggest that you drink the water in Salem Pond or any of the other lakes, ponds, or rivers you may swim in this summer. Swimming, however, is classified as secondary contact with the water and the odds of contracting a waterborne bacteria by swimming in any open water in the state of Utah is approximately 8 in 10,000 – for those who like me are not good at math this equates to very low odds (less than 1%).
For our part, we have concluded that we will still be taking some precautions to protect our participating athletes. First and foremost, we will be redesigning the swim portion of the event and the transition area to avoid the beach — the only area of the pond that has historically shown high levels of bacteria. Additionally, in cooperation with the Salem Fire Department, we will be putting together some sort of system for people to “hose down” or “shower off” prior to entering transition and we will be providing sample-sized hand sanitizer in the race goody bags and posting hand sanitizer throughout the transition area.
The bottom line is this — the water is safe for swimming, but don’t let me catch you drinking it.
Testing Results from April 28, 2011 (remember more than 409 = bad, and less than 409 = good). They take three samples from each area for each test, that’s why you’ll see three numbers for each area.
- Boat Launch (race start): 4.0, 1.0, 7.3
- Knoll Beach (the area we’ll be avoiding): 1.0, 2.0, 1.0
- North Arm (no swimmers should be here unless they get really lost): 11.0, 0.0, 2.0
- South Arm (this is where we swim): 4.1, 1.0, 2.0