What's Lurking in Lubbock's Playa Lake Water?


It's no question the city of Lubbock is known as the cotton capitol of Texas. But, there is another sight you're probably accustomed to seeing: playa lakes.

In fact, it's hard to find anywhere in Lubbock that isn't home to the roughly 126 currently in existence. Their purpose is simple.

"The purpose of these lakes is simply to keep flooding from happening in people's homes," said Dr. Blair Leftwich, a senior corporate technical director for Xenco Laboratories.

But, more and more outdoor enthusiasts are expanding that purpose to include everything from fishing and paddleboarding to a place to let your dog swim for exercise.

It's because of their growing recreational use that KLBK wanted to find out what is in the water. We started to get the answer to after we took samples from Clapp Park, Henry Huneke Park and Dunbar Historical Lake, and samples were sent for testing at Xenco Labs.

Dr. Leftwich said the samples were then, "tested for biological oxygen demand, total coliform, E. Coli, arsenic and lead."

First, the good news about what we found.

"That the BODs (biological oxygen demand) are non-detect at less than 20-parts per million in all the samples meaning that the water is pretty clean."

This may be surprising considering you can't see the bottom of any of the lakes we tested. But, on the plus side, it means the water has a healthy oxygen supply to support life.

We also had more good news when it came to the two toxic heavy metals arsenic and lead.

"Arsenic and lead, arsenic is below the EPA, both are below lead and arsenic level. Essentially, you could drink that water and not worry about arsenic or lead ingestion for toxicity," said Dr. Leftwich. 

But, before you scoop up a glass you may want to know what else we found lurking in the lakes. Our certified test results showed E. Coli in every single lake we tested.

Henry Huneke Park - 121 cultures per 100 milliliters of water
Dunbar Historical Park - 10 cultures per 100ml of water
Clapp Park - <10 cultures per 100ml of water.

The EPA standard for allowed E. Coli cultures is 394 cultures for contact water and 605 cultures for non-contact water.

But, if you want to know the source for the E. Coli it's easy to find the primary source at any open body of water.

"There's geese and ducks on those waters every single day it's probably from them," said Dr. Leftwich.

Our test results also showed elevated levels of coliforms or indicator bacteria.


enry Huneke Park - 1480
Dunbar Historical Park - 15500
Clapp Park - 1850

There is however, now EPA limit for coliforms which is why Dr. Leftwich said it's nothing to be worried about.

"If you took a handful of soil from your yard, you'd have that much total coliform in that soil. Again it's not pathogenic, you probably eat some every day and don't know it," said Dr. Leftwich.

But, when we asked the same question to Dr. Venkatesh Uddameri, director of water resources at Texas Tech, he erred more on the side of caution.

"The concerns with that are health risks and you get water born illnesses. You know coliforms have a major risk for water born illnesses. They're an indicator bacteria which means, it also gives us the presence of some other types of bacteria that can cause illnesses. Short term and long term," said Dr. Uddameri.

So, while the coliforms may be harmless, it's what else is in the water with them that should have you using caution. Especially in comparison to swimming pools, which typically have close to zero coliforms as possible.

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