Some wonder whether it's legal to swim in Lake Pontchartrain

Published: May. 31, 2013 at 2:19 AM CDT|Updated: Jun. 7, 2013 at 2:21 AM CDT
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New Orleans, La. - Swimming in Lake Pontchartrain turned deadly for a group of friends who decided to take a dip off of the seawall across from UNO.

Keswany Chavez, 21, drowned Tuesday afternoon.

Two days later, search crews recovered his body.

'No Swimming' signs all along Lakeshore Drive indicate that it may be illegal to swim.

John Lopez of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation says that isn't so.

"I know of no law or ordinance saying that you cannot swim in Lake Pontchartrain," says Lopez.

The NOPD also confirms it is perfectly legal to swim anywhere in the lake but there are several spots where it just isn't safe.

"We recommend that you don't access the lake from the seawall. The seawall for swimming, isn't safe. The lake itself is safe from a pollution standpoint, but the seawall is not," says Lopez.

Lopez says a swimmer could easily slip and fall on the steps and the water is about 10 feet deep. You'll also have to battle the current and some undertow that could actually suck you underneath the seawall.

Lopez says, unfortunately, there really is no safe beach access to the lake on the southshore.

"On the lake side of the levee is what was the old Pontchartrain Beach. The actual sand beach there is what was leased by the university last year," says Lopez.

UNO leased the sandy beach, but last year, when two young people drowned in the lake, UNO feared the 'no swimming' signs weren't enough and the university decided to extend fences into the lake to prevent access.

Lopez says UNO no longer has its lease and there is talk of reopening the beach once again.

"I think we would all like to see Pontchartrain Beach reopen, but nobody wants to see it reopen without some cautionary things done to make sure that it's safe," says Lopez.

Lopez says there are several places on the northshore with beach access to the lake, like Fountainbleau and the Northshore Beach in Slidell.