E. coli alert at Warren
Red flag signals high bacteria at beach
By CHRISTINE COX
SAWYER -- Jack Hott had trekked over from Detroit with
his family to spend a week camping at Warren Dunes State
And he is a little miffed that Warren Dunes and Berrien
County authorities didn't better publicize a no-swimming
advisory issued due to high levels of E. coli bacteria.
"You're paying $20 a day to come on over ... and they
don't even tell you," Hott said Monday.
With a red flag up, people tend to think of high waves.
But high waves weren't the reason Warren Dunes officials
put up a red flag on Thursday.
Eleven-year-old Duane Vernier, a grandson of Hott's from
Detroit, said he had gone swimming Thursday and Friday
despite seeing the red flag. But he hasn't gone back in
the water since learning that the flag was actually warning
about bacteria levels.
Hott, Duane and others have been cautioning people to
stay out of the water because of harmful bacteria levels,
saying that some people have been going in the water because
they think the flag just signals rough water.
On Monday, Lake Michigan was placid. And though E. coli
counts were better Monday than they had been since Thursday,
the waters at Warren Dunes State Park were kept off-limits
David Marsh, acting park supervisor, said a weekly test
by the Berrien County Health Department last week found
a high level of E. coli in the waters of Lake Michigan.
Because of the test results, the park put up a red flag
and a sign advising that people should not swim in Lake
Michigan at the Warren Dunes beach. Another nearby beach
has also been cited for high bacteria levels, according
One visitor to the park on Sunday said park employees
told her and her family not to touch the water.
Park officials, however, did not say why they shouldn't
touch the water, the visitor said.
Marsh did not know the E. coli count at the park. A spokeswoman
for the Berrien County Health Department said the employee
with the Warren Dunes statistics was not in the office
Marsh said the E. coli count has been dropping since
Thursday and that park workers were notified Monday afternoon
that half the beach was declared safe. But the park is
going to keep the red flag up and the warning about the
E. coli levels posted until the entire quarter-mile swimming
area reaches acceptable E. coli levels, Marsh said.
Total body contact recreation is allowed in state waters
that contain no more than 130 Escherichia coli per 100
milliliters in a 30-day "geometric mean," according to
the state Department of Environmental Quality. At no time
should the count reach more than 300 E. coli per 100 milliliters
for full body contact recreation.
Swallowing bacteria-infested water would most likely
bring sickness such as diarrhea or stomachache, but not
death, Berrien County Health Department officials have
Marsh guessed the Warren Dunes problem was caused by
heavy showers this season.
"We've had a lot of rain this year and have probably
had a lot of runoff from farmers' fields," he said.
Marsh, who has been with the park since 1986, said the
water has never been off-limits because of E. coli during
his tenure. And another employee who has been at Warren
Dunes since the 1970s has said the same thing. Both believe
the waters have never been closed for E. coli in the park's
High levels of E. coli bacteria have forced the closure
of Lake Michigan beaches at Indiana Dunes State Park and
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore before.
Officials will reopen beaches for swimming once bacteria
levels fall to what is considered safe.
E. coli is a usually harmless bacteria found in the intestines
of mammals. But some strains can travel in water and cause
illness or death for children, the elderly and those with
weakened immune systems.
Warren Dunes has three miles of beach in its 2,000 acres
But with the recent cool weather, there hasn't been a
big demand for swimming anyway, Marsh said.
The water temperature Monday morning was 63 degrees,
about 6 degrees below its normal level.
"It's a good thing it's happened when it has," Marsh