High E. coli levels prompt closing of Puffer’s Pond in Amherst

  • A swimmer at Puffer’s Pond in Amherst on the first day of its reopening. The hoops are to help groups social distance when sitting on the beach. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/1/2020 1:08:46 PM

AMHERST — Puffer’s Pond, which opened for swimming only two weeks ago, is closed again after high levels of E. coli bacteria were found in the water.

Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek said Wednesday that water samples taken Monday came back from the laboratory with E. coli bacteria levels exceeding state limits. 

“We strongly advise people not to swim in the pond until we have an acceptable test,” Ziomek said.

The recent precipitation, with periodic thunderstorms and downpours that began Saturday and have become an almost daily occurrence since, may have contributed to the high levels of E. coli, Ziomek said.

“It’s likely the result of the rain we just got,” he said.

Ziomek said there is significant sediment in the pond that can be disrupted, and runoff from upstream raises the level of the bacteria.

The closing is not unusual and has become a near annual occurrence. The reasons are similar to what happened in 2019 when the pond was closed twice, once between late June and early July and again in early August.

Amherst officials are following both the town Health Department and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health guidelines. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although some strains of E. coli are harmless, others can cause sickness such as diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, pneumonia and other illnesses.

For people looking to cool off in the coming days, the town’s two outdoor pools, Mill River and War Memorial, will remain open, and upstream of Puffer’s Pond is the Cushman Brook, where people have already been encouraged to take dips with their dogs. Ziomek said that brook is not tested.

The town is taking additional samples, but Ziomek said he isn’t confident the results will change immediately.

Monday marked the sixth week of testing.

Ziomek added that he understands a lot of people may have hoped to spend Independence Day at the pond, even though social distancing and limited capacity have been in effect to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s just unfortunate right before the holiday, but we needed the rain badly,” Ziomek said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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