Why Des Moines Took Days to Warn Residents About High E.Coli Levels

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- If you went to Gray's Lake Beach last weekend, chances are you swam in water with dangerously high levels of E. coli. The city should have known about it, but the beach wasn't closed until several days after the city was notified.

For David Cornelison, it's more than a beach. It's also his gym; training facility; and paddle boarding playground. That's why he was very concerned when he heard about high levels of E. coli at Grays Lake.

"The response I received was at best not very convincing whether the water was safe or not," Cornelison said, after calling the city about the issue.

We found out that the water at the lake was sampled on May 18, and the samples showed  levels more than four times above the safe level set by the Iowa DNR. The city received those results on May 22, but the beach wasn't closed until the May 26 after the holiday weekend.

At first, the city's Parks and Recreation Department spokeswoman tried to put a positive spin on that.

"What this did is really just give us a chance to streamline our process with internal communications and external communications and then our dealings with the DNR," Jen Fletcher said. "It just really provided us with an opportunity to make things better for our department, the DNR, and our patrons."

After several questions, Fletcher eventually admitted that only one person gets the email about E. coli levels, and that person was gone for the weekend.

"We just didn't have the information in hand," She said, struggling to find the words. "Well we...our staff members don't work on weekends."

Cornelison says there should be a back up plan in place. For example, he says, more than one person at the Department of Parks and Recreation should be notified about E. coli levels.

"It's a little alarming because just last weekend my girlfriend, her son and I were out here paddle boarding and we were in the water and potentially the city knew that it maybe wasn't safe to swim in at that time," Cornelison said.

So we asked, what is being done to make sure this doesn't happen again? After all, a lot of people were swimming in water that the city should have known was dangerous.

"Well, (laughs) OK. I know what you're doing. I get it. Uh, we are doing everything we can to improve the processes internally, externally, and with the DNR and we'll make sure that doesn't happen," Fletcher said.

Finally, Fletcher told Channel 13 News that in the future more people would be notified about elevated E. coli levels.

"This doesn't happen every day. This doesn't happen all the time," Fletcher insisted. "It only happens once a year if that."

The city does say the levels are down and the lake is safe to swim in again.