Testing begins for tainted beaches
By John Myers
Duluth News Tribune
Published May 4, 2006
The first test results are in, and, so far, Duluth area beaches are safe from high bacteria levels.
The 2006 beach testing season arrived this week with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency testing 10 Duluth-area beaches that might be frequented by kayakers and other cold-water enthusiasts.
The PCA will expand testing to all 39 Duluth and North Shore beaches starting May 22, said Heidi Bauman, coordinator for the program.
The 39 beaches -- waterfront areas popular for kayakers, anglers, rock hunters and others, if not actually used much for swimming -- run from Boy Scout Landing along the St. Louis River in Gary-New Duluth to Paradise Beach on Lake Superior east of Grand Marais.
In Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resources-monitored program will see counties testing beaches in the Superior harbor and along the South Shore starting in June.
Last summer on the Minnesota side of the lake and harbor, 12 beaches were posted as unsafe for human water contact, with 28 different advisories. That compares to 17 beaches posted 26 times in 2004.
This is the fourth summer of federally funded beach monitoring on the Great Lakes. The program does not include determining the sources of bacteria, however, or fixing the problem. Other researchers are trying to find out whether the bacteria are from humans, animals, birds or are naturally occurring.
If the bacteria that are closing some beaches are from birds or animals, public health officials will relax a bit because it's less likely that bacteria would be harmful to people. Efforts might be made to keep birds from congregating on the waterfront.
If the bacteria are from humans, officials will try to trace them and cut them off at sources, such as leaky septic systems, broken sewer lines, boats or sewage overflows.
Researchers say there probably are several sources of bacteria and that each waterfront area with a problem may have a different source. The problems are worse in some areas on windy days, when sediments are stirred up, and after heavy rains, when animal feces and sewage overflows are washed into the water.
In several areas, large numbers of birds appear to be a factor.
Crews test for E. coli and fecal coliform, bacteria from humans that may be indicators of more serious pathogens that can cause irritation and sickness if water is swallowed.
Lake Superior beaches have had the fewest problems in the four years of the Great Lakes program. While bacteria have been found at some beaches on some days, no disease-causing pathogens have been found.
Beach-testing results and advisories still lag more than 24 hours behind testing, though beach information is available online at www.mnbeaches.org, or by calling the Beach Advisory Hotline at (218) 725-7724. You also can sign up for free e-mail alerts warning of advisories at specific beaches.
For information on beach-testing results in Superior harbor and Lake Superior South Shore waterfront areas, go to www.wibeaches.us.