Our lake is safe for swimming!

The Smith Mountain Lake Association (SMLA) announces the results of the second bacterial testing of the season.

Bacterial levels at all fourteen sites sampled in the lake this week have satisfied the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) standard for recreational waters. This includes the five sites that had previously failed the VDH standard on May 24.

So, what caused the unfavorable results on May 24, and why have the results improved so much in the current week? You may recall that SML and the surrounding watershed area experienced very heavy rainfall in the days preceding May 24. During periods of heavy rainfall there is considerable runoff into the lake from the surrounding watershed area which contains wildlife, agriculture, and residential properties. Not only do the bacteria from these sources wash into the lake, but pollution in the form of excess nutrients from these sources contributes to accelerated growth of both bacteria and algae. The resulting spike in bacterial concentrations typically lasts up to three days after a heavy rainfall before dissipating.

While the weather is not something that lake residents can control, there are steps we can all take to minimize the adverse effects of these heavy rain events.

  1. Do not feed any wildlife. It a violation of Virginia law, and it encourages the gathering of geese, ducks, and deer, all of which use your property as their bathroom.
  2. Rather than growing grass right down to the shoreline, install a buffer of native plants along the shore which will help to slow the runoff of water into the lake and filter out some of the pollutants. This will also discourage flocks of geese from settling in, since they prefer unobstructed fairways. The SMLA offers a number of resources, at no cost, to help you design an attractive buffer garden.
  3. Minimize the use of chemicals on lawns and avoid any fertilizers that contains phosphorous.
  4. Boats with onboard septic systems should take advantage of the vessel pump-out program jointly sponsored by TLAC and SMLA. It is illegal to discharge boat holding tanks into the water. For more information regarding the program, please call the TLAC office at 540-721-4400 or email pumpout@sml.us.com. This is a free service to you throughout the summer months. Learn more on our website.
  5. Make sure that home septic systems are routinely inspected and periodically pumped out. A failing septic system can leak bacterial-laden sewage into the lake.

The next bacterial sampling will take place on June 21. The results of that sampling will be communicated as soon as they are available.

The Virginia Department of Health asks you to remember the following:

  • Do not swim immediately after heavy rains, nor, around ducks, geese and other birds, farm animals or wildlife.
  • Avoid getting lake water in your mouth or up your nose.
  • Do not swim with open wounds or sores.
  • No body of water in Virginia or elsewhere should be deemed “safe” regarding pathogens that may cause disease. VDH does not recommend drinking any untreated water from rivers or lakes.

The mission of the Smith Mountain Lake Association is to protect the water of SML and promote safe recreation. Our all-volunteer, non-profit organization has been working on this mission for the past 50 years because we believe that clean, clear, safe water is a responsibility—not an automatic right. If you would like to see more about what we’re doing, please visit our website at www.smlassociation.org and like us on Facebook.