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Wisconsin gives reason to hope for beaches in Illinois
By Gary Wisby
Chicago Sun-Times
04/07/04


An expanding beach testing program in Wisconsin will give beaches in the Chicago area a better chance of staying open, a Lake Michigan watchdog group said Tuesday.

Last summer, Wisconsin began testing nearly two dozen Lake Michigan beaches for dangerous levels of E. coli bacteria at least five times a week. It has just expanded the list to include 10 popular inland beaches.

The additional testing is important because E. coli bacteria ride southerly lake currents to contaminate beaches in Chicago, the Lake Michigan Federation maintains.

Chicago banned swimming at its beaches 130 times last year, and there were 178 beach closings in Lake County.

"Any changes that Wisconsin makes for more consistent testing help us get a more accurate view on how the public is able to use the lake," said Cameron Davis, the federation's executive director.

In a related development, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago heard arguments last week in a lawsuit by the federation against the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.

The district has pumped 1 billion gallons of raw sewage into Lake Michigan since 1995. Joined by the Friends of Milwaukee's Rivers, the federation seeks harsher state penalties and a phasing out of the discharges. The two environmental groups are appealing a dismissal of their suit by a federal judge in Milwaukee last September.

The judge found that the state had "diligently" enforced the law against the sewerage agency.

That finding was partly based on the fact that "at the last minute, the state filed suit against Milwaukee," Davis said. "The intent was shielding Milwaukee from our lawsuit. The state didn't do anything until it was prompted to."

Davis was encouraged by last week's hearing. "The court seemed to understand the issues and take the discharges seriously," he said.

Wisconsin has told the sewerage agency it must complete nearly $1 billion in overflow reduction projects and other programs by 2010.

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