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
Share your thoughts at http://www.nwitimes.com/youropinion.