E. coli warnings at beaches to change
Some will advise, not ban, swimmers when bacteria counts
South Bend Tribune
Published June 1, 2005
GARY (AP) -- Managers of Indiana beaches along Lake Michigan
will take different approaches to high E. coli bacteria
counts resulting from testing this summer, with some choosing
only to advise swimmers instead of barring them from the
The varying responses reflect different attitudes toward
a commonly used test for the bacteria that indicates the
possible presence of sewage in the water, but does not
Water conditions can change drastically between the time
a sample for the test is taken and when the results come
back nearly a day later. Additional tests last year showed
the water actually was safe 85 percent of the time when
test results came back showing bacterial levels the day
before that exceeded federal standards.
As a result, beaches at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore,
such as West Beach in Portage, will issue advisories when
tests this year show high readings. At other beaches,
such as Michigan City's Washington Park or Gary's Marquette
Park, similar test results likely will result in closing
the beach to swimmers.
Dale Engquist, the national lakeshore's superintendent,
said relying on the bacteria test alone is a disservice
to the public.
When the park receives a high reading on its once-weekly
E. coli test, it will tell beach visitors of the result,
but will not prohibit them from entering the water.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management until
a few weeks ago required beach managers to prohibit swimming
after a high E. coli reading. On May 3, it announced it
would allow local agencies to make beach-closing decisions
on their own. The state policy does not apply to the national
One environmentalist, Executive Director Tom Anderson
of the Save the Dunes Council, said the E. coli test still
is recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
for determining if inland water is safe for swimming.
"The new policy seems a step backward," Anderson
said. "If we're going to err, we need to err on the
side of caution."
However, Wendy Smith, education coordinator of the national
lakeshore's Great Lakes Research and Education Center,
said heavy rains are a better indicator of potential lake
water contamination. Heavy rains can make sewage treatment
plants send raw sewage into streams feeding into the lake.
"Generally speaking, if there hasn't been a heavy
rain, you can feel quite confident that Lake Michigan's
waters are clean enough for you to swim in," Smith
wrote in a recently published article.
Indiana Dunes State Park, which is separate from the
national lakeshore, also has a new policy this year.
The state park will issue an advisory after one high
E. coli reading. If the next day's reading also is over
the EPA's threshold, it will close the beach for swimming.
The park's managers also could close swimming before
getting a test result if they notice environmental conditions
-- such as heavy rain, sewage plant overflows and high
waves -- that historically have resulted in high E. coli