Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Beach monitoring season begins at Great Lakes beaches

Added efforts to help identify potential sources of pollutants

MADISON – Heading for one of Wisconsin’s public coastal beaches? People can sign up to get their own personal water quality forecast for Lake Michigan and Lake Superior sites. The forecasts and information are also available for some inland beaches.

People can go online to [www.wibeaches.us] (exit DNR) to learn the latest beach conditions at 120 Lake Superior and Lake Michigan sites and sign up to get beach advisories e-mailed to them. They also can find water quality information for more than 100 inland beaches including those monitored by the City of Madison, La Crosse County, Waukesha County Parks, and Winnebago County.

This is the seventh summer that public beaches along Wisconsin’s Great Lakes coast are participating in a uniform program to regularly test for bacteria and inform swimmers about water quality conditions.

The Wisconsin Beach program, administered by the Department of Natural Resources and carried out by local governments, aims to reduce the public’s risk of exposure to water-borne illnesses. Greg Kleinheinz, an Associate Professor of Microbiology at UW-Oshkosh who has been involved in the program since its start, is under contract with DNR to run the program.

Under the uniform beach monitoring program, counties test beaches up to four times a week for E.coli bacteria, which indicate the possible presence of bacteria and viruses that might sicken people. Potential sources of E.coli contamination at Wisconsin beaches include agricultural runoff, urban storm water and sewage overflows. In addition, wildlife and waterfowl feces contribute to high levels of E.coli in both beach sand and water.

“An increased risk of illness” advisory sign is posted at beaches whenever the water quality criterion of 235 colony forming units (CFU) for E.coli is exceeded. A red STOP sign that closes the beach is posted when E.coli levels exceed 1,000 CFU, indicating a “serious risk” of illness, or whenever local health officials think it’s warranted due to sewer overflows, heavy rainfalls, or other triggers, Kleinheinz says.

The 2009 program will be funded primarily from a federal grant DNR has secured from EPA for the purpose, most of which is passed through to the 13 local governments participating in the program this year. Under state law, local governments are responsible for providing public health advice for their local beaches unless the beaches are on state properties or owned by tribal governments.

Wisconsin became the first state to fully implement a beach monitoring program in accordance with federal program criteria and has been praised by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a model for other states.

Training to identify contamination sources
available to interested parties

New this year, DNR and UW-Oshkosh produced an instructional DVD to help local governments, private resort owners, and even waterfront property owners identify possible sources of contamination at their beaches, as well as prevent contamination by mitigating possible future sources.

The DVD, “A guide to Conducting Beach Sanitary Surveys in Wisconsin,” is free can assist in training local staff on the use of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Sanitary Survey tool for source identification. People can get a copy by contacting Gregory Kleinheinz at (920) 424-1100 or kleinhei@uwosh.edu

DNR is working closely with UW-Oshkosh and the City of Racine Health Department to help train those who want to use the sanitary surveys developed by the EPA to assess all potential sources of pollution at the beaches.

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