White Lake white with foam; stench more evident

2018-03-30 | Bladen Journal (Elizabethtown, N.C.)

March 28--WHITE LAKE -- What's churning in White Lake?

"It smells like a laundromat pipe burst, like dirty laundry," said White Lake resident Shirlee Reed. "It also smells a little bit like sewage and a little like dank water. It's putrid, and it's smelled like that for about a week now."

Realizing that odors are difficult to prove and can be attributed to wind, Reed was silent for a while -- until the foam appeared.

"White Lake is now really white," she laughed. "There are bubbles and suds, like washing machine suds, everywhere."

The year-round resident lives at Timber Lodge Village, located on the south side of the lake. Prevailing northerly winds mean whatever floats on the water's surface ends up near the neighborhood's pier, which, on Monday, had suds and foam extending approximately 10 feet from the shore.

"A smell is un-provable, but this you can see," she said.

State officials were called and came Tuesday to collect water samples.

"They said the foam appears to be man-made, not natural," remarked Reed.

Prior to moving to White Lake roughly six years ago -- which she said she did exactly because of White Lake, comparing it to the beauty of the Bahamas with its clear water and white sands -- Reed worked in the Triad area. There, she served in the lab of a manufacturing company for 40 years, testing chemicals in water and on products.

"I know when water is bad," she said.

The foam just serves to amplify recent concerns at the resort area. The last few years have been fraught with rashes, tests, water samples, clarity issues, and health concerns with the historically clear water.

"When I moved here, I actually lost a tortoise shell hair clip in five feet of water," she recalled. "I saw it, and went down and got it. You can't do that any more. I can't even see the bottom in one foot of water."

Town officials have themselves requested testing, after a 2016 outbreak of rashes was attributed to swimming in the lake. Testing revealed the water to be of "excellent quality," according to what was reported to the commissioners in August that year. More testing was done in 2017, and residents learned the pH of the water had changed.

Possible causes expressed by town officials range from phosphorus from an inflow that was later stopped, to boats churning up too much oxygen, to fowl excrement.

Reed kept saying she was "calling BS" on explanations for the issue.

"Last year, when we had the fish kill ... they said the analysts said the test results were inconclusive," the retired scientist said. "That's completely wrong. When you're testing water, it's either going to test positive for microbes or negative. There's no such thing as inconclusive."

She believes the whole issue could be related to sewer lines. A foot of standing water in her yard in the middle of a drought and after a 1/4 -inch rain tell her the water table is full. Though she has been told it's because the neighborhood was built on top of swamp land, property analysis reveals no water has been under her house in at least 50 years. The idea, she believes, is merited by the fact that when she has seen town employees using an auger in the septic lines, the problem dissipates for a while before building back up again. She also has witnessed sewage bubbling up from manhole covers. In addition, the foam's appearance corresponds in time with the grand re-opening of a laundromat.

Though she has been accused of "ruining tourism" with her claims and has expressed concern over harm frequently done to whistle-blowers, ultimately, she said, she wants what everyone wants.

"I just want it to go back to being the way it used to be," she said, adding, "If we don't clean up the pollution, we're going to lose visitors anyway. We need to talk about this, so something will get done. This lake is screaming for help."

The White Lake Public Works Department did not immediately respond with comments.

Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing ccarroll@bladenjournal.com.