By John Ramos

BERKELEY (KPIX 5) — The city of Berkeley has discovered high levels of E. coli bacteria in the lagoon at Aquatic Park. They’re warning people to stay out but it’s still a mystery of how it got there in the first place.

In mid-August, the city was getting reports that the water was extremely cloudy and had a weird smell. After testing, it was determined the water contained E. coli from fecal matter at twice the safe levels Berkeley observes and nearly five times what the State Water Resources Control Board recommends for recreational contact.

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“This is way over. It doesn’t matter what threshold,” said Berkeley spokesperson Matthai Chakko. “It’s significantly over and that’s prompted our concern.”

Berkeley has now posted signs warning people not to go in the water, or drink it.  And while it isn’t really a place people swim, it is popular with water skiers, rowers and kayakers.

“I wouldn’t advise people to go in the water anymore,” said park jogger Alex Passano. “I probably wouldn’t advise them before, it just doesn’t look clean, but definitely knowing there’s E. coli is not great.”

But no one seems to know where it’s coming from. People walk dogs around the park but no more than usual to cause the recent E. coli spike.  The East Bay Municipal Utilities District says it hasn’t had any sewage line breaks lately, and while there is an industrial materials lot next door there hasn’t been rain to cause runoff in months.  But the city has been chopping out an unusual amount of widgeon grass that can create algae.

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“The algae blooms sometimes get so thick that you could practically walk across them, to the point where they dry out on the top,” said Berkeley resident Sam Manera.

But the biggest problem may be how stagnant the water is.  The lagoon is supposed to rise and fall through five tidal tubes connecting it to the Bay. But Gene Ojeda, who lives just blocks away and visits regularly, believes the tubes must be plugged which explains why the water level now sits 10 inches higher than last year.

“So when the tide goes out, this stays up?” Ojeda was asked. “This remains at a constant level,” he replied, “Like a lake, so, there’s no outflow.”

The city acknowledges the lagoon seems pretty plugged up so officials have begun a study to determine the feasibility of replacing the aging tidal tubes.

Meanwhile, to more closely monitor the situation, Berkeley has begun testing the water on a weekly basis, rather than monthly.  The last test was on Friday and the city is still waiting for those lab results from the Alameda County Health Department.

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