AUBURN — A disappointing health study of the water in the city's Outlet Beach may inspire officials to look for public swimming opportunities elsewhere.
"Whether we view swimming as priority, in this spot or not, I think that based on this report, any reasonable person would not want to get into this water," Councilor Joshua Shea said Monday during a City Council workshop meeting. "It just doesn't sound clean and safe. Maybe some days it is, but it sounds like quite a bit of time, it's not."
The report, by New Hampshire's Comprehensive Environmental for the Lake Auburn Watershed Protection Commission and the city, found levels of fecal bacteria in the pond that were higher than Environmental Protection Agency recreational standards in one-quarter to one-third of the tests performed since April 2005.
The findings were based on water quality tests done at the pond between April 2005 and last summer. It was commissioned after the pond was closed to swimming twice last summer after Coliform bacteria were found in the water. The bacteria can cause minor skin and eye infections, gastrointestinal disorders and respiratory illness.
"I know there are romantic attachments to this beach, or historical attachments," Shea said. "But it sounds like it's really just not usable."
The study found the Enterococci bacteria exceeded EPA standards for freshwater recreation areas in 38 out of 120 samples and E. coli bacteria levels surpassed standards in 29 out of 120 samples. Both are common bacteria in human and animal digestive systems.
A lack of fresh water may be to blame, according to the study. Because of the topography of the area, water runs in one direction — from Lake Auburn, to the pond and into Bobbin Mill Brook.
Lake Auburn feeds the pond through a single 25-foot-wide outlet spillway located under Route 4. Fresh water follows an eight-foot-deep stream through the pond and runs out through a spillway into Bobbin Mill Brook under Fair Street.
The study recommended three options, ranging from spending up to $600,000 to dredge the pond and rebuild the beach area to decommissioning the area as a beach and a park.
Councilor Tizz Crowley and Mayor Jonathan LaBonte said the matter deserved a public review and discussion. LaBonte said one solution may be to run a city bus to the Range Ponds State Park.
"If you are at Auburn's business parks, you are almost on your way to Range Pond," LaBonte said. "If the goal is to provide swimming, is it swimming that must be in our municipal boundaries or would a state park that is very proximate, fortunately for us, be a means to that end?"
The pond is also fed from stormwater running off Route 4 and the neighborhood to the south and east of the site. That runoff can be contaminated with oil, metals and bacteria, according to the study.
Councilor Leroy Walker said the city should focus its efforts there.
"Route 4 has been getting bigger and bigger, and more and more traveled," Walker said. "The state has allowed it to go out of control. They put in ditches that should have been there, and any runoff goes into our pond, our lake and our swimming area."
Councilors have discussed making $65,000 worth of proposed improvements to the area — including a water slide, a wharf, new playground equipment and bathrooms. They put those ideas on hold in November when the study was commissioned.
City Manager Clinton Deschene said Monday they would stay on hold until the city could schedule a public review of the report.