It's hard to imagine a better way to spend a summer day: boating, swimming, and lounging in the cool waters of Lake Webb. But when we tested the water there, we found more than good ol' H20. There is literally feces in the water.
"I've been going to the lake for about 15 years now, and the water is getting dirtier and dirtier," said Joe Jordan. "You can even tell in the soil that the water is black now. There's more people going out there. It's just getting more polluted and more polluted."
Flashback to Memorial Day Weekend. Jordan takes his father's boat's to Lake Webb for a day of fun. Then, trouble strikes. A cooling hose from the boat's engine sprays searing hot water up and down his leg. "When the hot water hit, my first reaction was to jump into the water," said Jordan."And then that day, it looked fine that day. That night I went to the emergency room and they bandaged me up."
However, Joe's ordeal was far from over. After his burn was treated, a severe infection developed in his leg, quickly spreading to his lymph nodes and spilling infection throughout his body."They told me that was the worst thing I could do was jump in the water," said Jordan. "That's what gave me the infection inside my leg, and that's why it turned out to be such a bad ordeal. When you get a burn, don't jump out in the water. Best thing to do is to put ice on it and go see a doctor. Because there's parasites or whatever, germs or stuff like that out in the water. They got into my leg and my bloodstream."
Barry Massirio is the physician's assistant who treated Joe's injury. "He had some first, second, and few spots that were second and third degree burns," said Massirio. "When that happened, he jumped in the lake to cool off. Well, that was the worst thing he could of done because especially stagnant lake water has a lot of bacterias in it there, as well as parasidic problems there. He developed a really severe infection."
Buena Vista is a manmade site, completed in April of 1973. It took 43 days to fill Lake Webb with over 2 billion gallons of water. In the swimming area, children and adults alike swim and play in the water. But just what's in the water? We took a sample to find out.
Marna Atencio works for BC Labs, a local laboratory certified in water testing. Our sample brought to her from Lake Webb revealed some surprising results. "The test that we performed for you was a test for chloroform bacteria," said Atencio. "Total and fecal chloroform bacteria. Chloroform bacteria is a group of organisms that are used as an indicator for pollution and sanitary quality of water. Because it has been studied a lot, and has specific characteristics, it's an easy bacteria to analyze for. "We found total chloroform and fecal chloroform present in your sample, which indicates there is a presence of some type of sewage contamination, or the presence of excrement from warm blooded mammals or animals."
So with thousands of adults and children swimming in Lake Webb every year, how often is water quality tested by the county? Once a month? Once a week? The answer may surprise you. "The water currently does not get tested," said Bob Lerude of the Kern County Department of Parks and Recreation. "There's no requirement for us to test the lakes themselves. However, we have had issues come up in the past such as swimmer's itch out at Lake Ming, and when that became a problem we tested the lake. We had someone apply a treatment to the lake to take care of the swimmers itch."
In other words, unless someone reports a problem, no one is testing the water. Yet others argue that simple common sense should be enough, and all lakes and rivers contain bacteria, presenting varying levels of infection risk. "Make sure you're in good health if you go out there and swim," said Boyce B Dulan of the Kern County Department of Public Health. "You're going to get some water in your face, water in your mouth, and you're going to swallow some of this stuff. If you have good, normal immune system, most of the time, you won't have much problem. If you have a cut or a break in your skin, or if you have sores in your mouth, then the bacteria can break through your normal defense system and get in contact with your blood system, and get carried to another area. That's where you have a real risk. You get a burn on your leg or where ever, then you get in the water, you may then be in for real problems."
Jordan told us he's still undecided on filing a complaint with the county. Meanwhile, we received a call yesterday from another victim named Erin Hicks. She told us after swimming at Lake Webb she developed a severe rash up and down her body, caused, according to her doctor, from the waters at Lake Webb.
How do you protect yourself if you enjoy the waters at Buena Vista? Experts we spoke to suggested trying to limit the amount of water you swallow when swimming. Don't swim when feeling sick or if you immune system is compromised in any way.And all experts we spoke to agreed: if you have a cut or open wound of any kind, stay out of the water until you're fully healed.