Oliver Reservoir Recreation Area Water Testing

Oliver Reservoir Recreation Area Water Testing


Oliver Reservoir Recreation Area Water Testing


     When visiting a lake one can wonder “how safe is the water?”  With the Memorial Day weekend ahead, many will be making plans to visit nearby lakes as summer activities get underway.  Oliver Reservoir Recreation Area (ORRA) near Kimball is one such lake destination that will see summer activities beginning this coming weekend. 

     Since taking over operation of the reservoir in February, 2014, the South Platte Natural Resources District has been testing the reservoir weekly during the summer to ensure that the water is safe to play in for humans and pets.  The Nebraska Department of Environment Quality (NDEQ) requires testing on lakes around the state every one to two weeks from May through September.  The results of the tests are posted every Thursday or Friday on the NDEQ website, 

     Testing is done on two primary areas of concern, Bacteria (E. Coli) and Toxic Blue-green Algae. Bacteria can be introduced to lake systems through several sources including wildlife and livestock that walk into the water and leave behind feces, septic systems that are not working properly, or untreated water from wastewater treatment plants.  Storm water run-off can also bring bacteria to lakes.

     The typical effects of drinking water with high levels of bacteria include gastrointestinal problems or flu-like symptoms that are typically not life threatening.  Exposure to skin usually does not result in any skin issues.     

     While testing for bacteria is important, the bigger concern is the Toxic Blue-green Algae.  Levels of bacteria are considered a higher risk for illness through ingestion after testing results show 235 counts or higher per 100 ml while Health Alert levels for the toxin Microcystin, also known as Toxic Blue-green Algae, is just 20 parts per billion.

     When high levels of bacteria are present the lake will remain open for swimming unlike for high levels of Microcystin which, when detected, will result in closure of the swimming beaches.  Boating and other recreational activities will still be allowed but caution will be needed to avoid exposure to the water, especially any activity where water could be swallowed.  Signs will be posted to alert the public of the presence of Microcystin.  A lake needs to be under the 20 parts per million for two consecutive weeks before it will be deemed safe to swim in again. 

     Children and pets are at a high risk for exposure since they explore the shore line of a lake where there is typically a higher concentration of the algae blooms.  Children and pets have a lower body weight which means smaller amounts of ingestion can lead to symptoms such as headaches, nausea, muscle pains, and gastrointestinal issues.  Adults have also reported similar symptoms.  Severe cases can include seizures, liver failure, respiratory arrest and in rare cases, death.  Prolonged exposure to skin can lead to rashes, lesions and blisters while extreme cases can result in skin ulcers.

     When visiting any lake keep a look out for water that is neon green, pea green, blue-green, or reddish-brown in color or water that has a bad odor.  Avoid the water if there is foam, scum, or green or blue-green streaks on the water surface.

     The good news for visitors to ORRA is since 2010 the lake has had levels of Microcystin reach the health alert level only once, in August, 2014.  The following week the levels had gone under the health alert level from 21.49 on August 11 to 2.58 on August 18.  Levels of bacteria have occasionally gone above the higher risk threshold but return to lower levels typically within a week.

     For the first three tests in 2016, ORRA has had zero recorded level of Microcystin and the bacteria levels have been between 2 and 4 out of 100 ml; the higher risk level being 235 parts out of 100 ml.  If at any time a health alert is issued for ORRA, signs will placed at the swimming beach and media will be notified.

     So pack up the camper, bring the swim suits and fishing poles, and enjoy the summer at Oliver Reservoir Recreation Area.  Entrance to the area is free though donations are accepted to help with operations and maintenance at the recreation area.  Camping, whether in a camper or a tent will require filling out a registration form located at the entrance to the area.           


Press Release  



Date:      May 23, 2016

Contact: Donald Davis ddavis [at]

                Information & Education Coordinator

Phone:   (308) 254-2377