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Great Lakes Article:

New water panel to study beaches
By Joanna Pluta
Pioneer Press Illinois

Several state and county health officials will collaborate on a new study of bacteria at Lake County's Lake Michigan beaches - a phenomenon that forced more than 200 beach closings last summer.

A study, organized by the Lake County Health Department and funded by the North Shore Sanitary District last fall, determined that sea gull feces was the primary source of bacteria at four Lake Michigan beaches. But state Sen. Susan Garrett, D-29th, criticized the methods of an off-season study that measured bacteria when E. coli levels were not high enough to close the beaches.

Garrett of Lake Forest has since recruited a new Water Testing Review Panel to establish criteria and oversee a second wave of testing at five Lake Michigan beaches during their busiest season.

"We're taking a very aggressive stance," she said. "There is no disagreement whatsoever that nothing is more important than ensuring the public's health when it comes to our water."

Garrett has already received one proposal from a Miami company for a new round of water testing in July. Further proposals will be solicited, but early costs estimates reflect a price tag between $16,000 and $26,000 for the tests.

Tests at five Lake Michigan beaches will compare the DNA in beach water bacteria to that in human and animal waste, and also examine how runoff from storm sewers and ravines may affect bacteria levels at the Lake Forest and Highland Park beaches. The five testing sites have not been determined, but Garrett said a Cook County beach may be included.

Garrett has established a trust fund at the First Bank of Highland Park, 1835 First St. Her office will solicit donations from municipalities, environmental organizations and local residents.

Contributions to The Clean Water Trust Fund should be forwarded to: The Office of State Sen. Susan Garrett, 425 N. Sheridan Road, Highwood, IL, 60040. More information is available by calling Garrett's office at (847) 433-2002.

Until the study is complete, beachfront municipalities are working to minimize the existing problem. Public education efforts will remind beach visitors to dispose of trash in covered containers and not to feed waterfowl.

The Lake Michigan Federation has published a "Prescription For Healthy Beaches," available at its Web site,

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