The Department of Natural resources is four years in to a five year study of water quality at the Lake of the Ozarks, which has produced reports of E. coli levels that have generated a lot of attention.

Donna Swall is with the Lake of the Ozarks Watershed Alliance, which works in cooperation with the DNR on the water quality study. She says once the study is complete, they’ll look at a full review of all the data. But they’ve already been making adjustments based on the results in the first four years.

“We’ve already learned something huge, and that is when it rains, our lake is maybe not a good lake to swim in. Why is that? It’s the storm water, it’s earth coming into the lake… We call it a ‘suspended solid’ once it gets to the water. That dirt that flows in takes everything that’s on the bank in with it. Plus it becomes a table for all the bacteria that already, naturally, lives in the lake to start growing. That’s when our E. coli numbers get out of whack,” Swall said.

She says a solution is to put low-impact landscaping in the yards of lake front homes. The alliance will start working with homeowners in the next month to start that process.

She thinks the results of this study will be of great help when deciding on strategies to keep the lake healthy long-term.

“We just want to be prepared and we know from the five-year study we’re working with, it’s brought the E. coli to the forefront of everyone’s mind. We also know E. coli is just an indicator. Just because we have E. coli in the water doesn’t mean it’s going to affect someone negatively,” Swall said.

She says while the study has generated some results that don’t always cast a favorable light on the lake, that attention will actually help her group’s efforts.

“There’s a lot at stake for everyone and I think without these studies there would not be the awareness needed for the Average Joe to say, ‘Hey, I want to step up to the plate and do my part, what can we do?’ Now we have a lot of people interested in what we are going to do, and a lot of people are expecting someone to take action,” Swall said.

When completed, the testing will include coves from Bagnell Dam to Truman Dam. Swall says she’s also currently working on securing a grant to study the impact of runoff from septic systems.

AUDIO: Ryan Famuliner reports [1 min MP3]