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The beach at Robbins Island remains closed Wednesday. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Water quality issues lead to closing of Robbins Island swimming beach in WIllmar, Minn.

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WILLMAR -- The Robbins Island swimming beach on Foot Lake remains closed after routine testing last week uncovered a high fecal count.

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Water conditions at the beach are most likely due to a combination of the local Canada goose population, runoff from recent rainfall and typical late-summer stagnant water, said Steve Brisendine, Willmar Community Education and Recreation director.

"We want to try to keep it safe," he said. "It's just something we're concerned about."

Testing is done twice a week during the swimming season, which lasts from June through August, he said.

The beach was closed last week after test results showed a fecal count exceeding the threshold.

The numbers had dipped down by the end of the week but "bumped back up again" with the latest sampling, which took place on Monday, Brisendine said.

Rainfall on Friday night was probably a contributing factor, he said.

The test results were received Tuesday, leading to a decision to extend the closure of the beach.

Samples taken at different locations on Foot Lake indicate that water conditions are better in some spots, including near Rau Park on the north side of the lake.

Higher fecal counts at the swimming beach are likely the result of the concentration of geese nearby, Brisendine said. "That's where it accumulates. It's probably somewhat skewed because of that."

The water will continue to be tested through the end of the swimming season, he said.

In the meantime, lifeguards have been pulled from the beach because of the closure.

This is the first time this summer that the beach at Robbins Island has been closed due to water quality issues, but Brisendine said it's "not unusual" for water conditions to deteriorate in late summer, when the water becomes more stagnant.

Rarely, swimmers can contract a deadly amebic infection from Naegleria fowleri, an organism that lives in warm freshwater and soil. The amoeba can enter the brain through the nose of swimmers who swim or dive in stagnant, warm freshwater. It causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis, an extremely rare form of meningitis that is usually fatal.

Naegleria is suspected in the death this week of a 9-year-old boy from Wyoming, Minn. He had been swimming in several lakes in Washington County during the previous two weeks, the Minnesota Department of Health said Tuesday.

State health officials said swimmers should avoid water that's low or stagnant, especially in warm weather.

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Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at http://healthbeat.areavoices.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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