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Great Lakes Article:

Find and eliminate water contamination
Northwest Indiana Times

Our opinion: More research is needed to find the sources of pollution. As they're identified, they'll need to be reduced or eliminated quickly.

Another swimming season brings the annual concern about the safety of the water at the area's beaches. It's a legitimate concern. The presence of fecal material in the water is potentially harmful to swimmers' health.

But the current testing just isn't adequate. Water for swimmers is tested periodically for the presence of E. coli bacteria, an indicator of fecal material. Those results take 24 hours, so decisions on beach closings are based on day-old indicators that might not be valid anymore.

Fortunately, a pilot program at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore's West Beach could serve as a national model for getting reliable test results within hours.

One possibility might be to test for substances such as caffeine that almost definitely would indicate the presence of human waste in the water.

That's the first part of making recreational waters safer.

The second is finding the sources of the contamination and working to eliminate or reduce those threats.

The current E. coli test doesn't help pinpoint the source of the fecal contamination. It could be from overflowing sewers or leaky septic tanks, or it could be from farmers' herds or wildlife.

The Lake Michigan Federation has suggestions in its report, "A Prescription for Healthy Beaches." Some of the ideas should be taken to heart by individuals.

The report suggests things such as reducing water consumption during storms to reduce pressure on combined sewers that handle both storm water and homes' untreated waste water. Sewer overflows from as far as Valparaiso and Chicago have been known to contaminate water off Indiana's beaches.

Another suggestion is to stop feeding seagulls and other wildlife at the beach.

But some of the actions needed are beyond individuals' abilities. They require state or federal action.

The combined sewer systems need massive amounts of money to straighten them out. In theory, each of these is a local responsibility. But in reality, only the federal government has the kind of money needed to either install separate sewers or greatly expand each system's capacity to prevent overflows during the heaviest rains. Besides, improving the environment is a federal mandate, so let the federal government pay the lion's share of the cost.

It's good to see some headway being made for more reliable testing. But that's just a start toward solving the problem.

Your opinion, please

What steps should be taken to make the area's beaches safer?

Share your thoughts at

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