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Great Lakes Article:

Skyrocketing E. coli levels close eight Lake Michigan beaches to swimming.

Northwest Indiana Times staff report
July 1, 2002

Weekend swimming plans were sunk Friday when the highest E. coli readings of the year caused the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to close eight of its 11 Lake Michigan beaches to swimming.

At two of the beaches, State Park East and Mount Baldy, readings were nearly nine times the level at which swimming is deemed unsafe.

Cheryl Guster, National Lakeshore Biological Science Technician, said the levels were highest at those beaches because both have ditches with high E. coli levels leading to them. Kintzele Ditch, with levels of 4,533 colonies per 100 milliliters, is just west of Mount Baldy. Dunes Creek, which leads to State Park East, registered levels of 4,833.

Guster said there is more E. coli growth in warm weather, and sudden rainfall can turn up E. coli that had settled in water. The exact cause of the high E.coli numbers could include wildlife feces or leaking septic systems near water, but the exact cause hasn't been pinpointed, she said.

Heavy rainstorms hit the area on Tuesday and more rain fell Wednesday in advance of the sampling done on Thursday. It takes 24 hours to obtain results from the samples. The National Lakeshore took additional water samples at the closed beaches on Friday. If bacteria readings drop to safe levels, those beaches will be reopened to swimming today.

Before Friday, testing had been relatively uneventful this summer. On June 14, three beaches were closed to swimming, but levels had been safe every other week.

In 2000, beaches monitored by the National Lakeshore were closed 23 times. Last year they were closed 26 times.

E. coli is a bacteria found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals. Most are harmless, but certain strains can be deadly when mixed with the types found in the intestines.

Earlier this year, Guster offered some general guidelines beach visitors can follow if they are concerned about contamination on nontesting days.

"If the ditches are flowing and it is warm enough, the beaches will fail," she said, adding she advises swimmers to stay away from the water plumes coming from the ditches into the lake.

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