The water at the outlet in Auburn, formally called Lake Grove Park, is relatively shallow and stagnant, creating tenuous water quality. The city is considering reopening it for swimming this summer. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

AUBURN — The city is tentatively planning to reopen the outlet beach at Lake Grove Park for swimming this summer, and are considering it a “pilot program” where availability will depend on weekly water testing and staffing.

The swimming hole has been plagued by water quality issues during the summer months due to poor water flow and circulation, and has been closed to swimming since 2013. However, city officials revived talks about the outlet in 2020. The City Council recently set aside $150,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act to pursue water circulation and testing.

Staff said ultimately water quality depends on a number of factors, including the weather and wildlife.

In 2013, the water exceeded Environmental Protection Agency standards of either E. coli bacteria or enterococci bacteria in 12 of 19 tests.

After talks restarted among city staff, basic tests were again conducted, which showed numbers consistent with previous testing. It was tested six times in 2020, and the water exceeded E. coli levels in two of the samples.

According to Public Services Director Dan Goyette, the water was tested nine times last year in June and July, and only one test would have resulted in the beach’s closure.

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Lake Auburn feeds the outlet pond through a single, 25-foot-wide outlet spillway under Route 4. Fresh water follows along an 8-foot-deep stream through the pond and runs out through a spillway into Bobbin Mill Brook, under Fair Street.

During a recent council workshop, officials said the city is moving ahead with plans to open Auburn’s only public swimming hole, and will simply base its availability on regular testing.

Mayor Jason Levesque said Tuesday that the city is looking at this summer as a “pilot program,” with limited or variable hours depending on the testing and staffing.

But, he said, “We believe the public will be as excited as we are to again enjoy swimming in Lake Grove Park, even on a limited basis. It’s a start in the right direction.”

Richard Hardy tries his luck fishing Tuesday afternoon at Lake Grove Park in Auburn where the fish were not biting but it was a great place to spend a sunny afternoon. The city is considering opening up the outlet for swimming, depending on water quality tests. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

City administration is also looking at costs for providing lifeguard services. If ultimately approved, City Manager Phil Crowell said Auburn could advertise certain days and times when a lifeguard is on duty.

During the workshop last week, Levesque urged the city to look into having a lifeguard on duty, at least part time.

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“Without having lifeguards, in this community where we have a very bad history of water safety and training, I don’t feel comfortable,” he said.

He recommended that the city allocate funds for water testing, then contract with an outside agency for lifeguard services, “even if it means we’re only allowing swimming in an abbreviated schedule.”

Goyette said the water testing would be based on the state’s recreational swimming guide for municipalities, and would be focused on E. coli levels. The Auburn Water District would train recreation staff to do the testing, with samples taken to a local lab, he said.

After previous discussions, Goyette looked into the possibility of adding a fountain or some kind of aeration to the outlet in hopes that it could assist circulation. He said the city has sought bids, but didn’t receive any.

The water at the outlet in Auburn, formerly called Lake Grove Park, is relatively shallow and stagnant, creating tenuous water quality and has limited swimming in the past. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Most councilors agreed to hold off on aeration for now — mostly because it isn’t guaranteed to work — and instead hope that the testing will allow swimming for at least a number of weeks this summer.

“Even if we can only get a few weeks, people would be thrilled to have it,” Councilor Rick Whiting said.

Crowell said prior to the council meeting next week, he’d put together estimated costs associated with lifeguard coverage and hours of operation.

He said the pilot program could gauge how the testing goes, “see what it looks like, and see how many weeks we’re able to be operational.”

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