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South Lake Swim Tests

Thu, 06/06/2024 - 11:23


Swimming has been technically prohibited at South Lake Drive Beach in Montauk for almost a generation. According to the East Hampton Town Natural Resources Department, the shallow Lake Montauk beach was closed in 2005, but knowledge of water contamination there goes back at least until the early 1980s, when the town pulled its lifeguards.

What makes the health risks at South Lake so unfortunate is that they chiefly affected kids. The warm shallows were hugely popular among caregivers of toddlers and preschool-age children. It was a place where parents could relax, knowing that the lifeguards were on the stand and, in the event help was need, a rescue would be in only knee-deep water. But it was too good to last; officials said that South Lake was at the receiving end of a sprawling watershed, one that extended to the Ditch Plain neighborhood.

The state shut the South Lake shellfishing area in 1982, after elevated fecal coliform bacteria became routine in water samples taken there. The town ended its free swimming lessons there over health concerns the following year. 

An ongoing town project was designed to limit the volume of contaminated wastewater and road runoff that reaches the lake at South Beach. The money is from the community preservation fund. A nearby restaurant and several rental cottages have also had septic upgrades recently. Scores of native plants will replace invasive vegetation. The prospect of safer swimming there this summer appears good.

More than all that, the South Lake improvements have been an excellent chance for town officials to put to the test water quality techniques they have also imposed on property owners. Tests of water at South Lake in the months ahead could be an indication of whether the current requirements for private parcels are effective enough to justify their costs.

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