MPCA BEACH MONITORING PROGRAM
ENDS BUSY SEASON
Duluth, Minn. - Six months after Heidi Bauman dipped
her first water quality sampling jar arm-length into Lake
Superior, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's (MPCA)
Beach Program Coordinator says she is surprised at the
number of "no water contact" advisories she
had to post at public swimming beaches and boat-access
points due to E. coli and fecal coliform bacteria-contaminated
"When we started the beach water monitoring program
last May, we thought we'd have a four-month season and
few problems due to Lake Superior's cold, clear water.
Unfortunately for swimmers and others using public access
sites between Duluth and Grand Marais, high bacteria counts
at 10 of our 35 monitoring sites opened our eyes to a
more serious water-quality problem. Fortunately, the other
25 sites didn't have any problems all summer."
As a result, higher-than-allowable levels of E. coli
and fecal coliform bacteria, originating in humans, geese,
seagulls and other warm blooded animals, made their way
into public beaches and adjacent waterbodies where swimmers
and boat enthusiasts congregate during the summer. At
high levels, these bacteria can cause nausea, vomiting,
abdominal cramps, fever, headache and diarrhea. Other
illnesses associated with swimming in such waters include
eye, ear, nose
and throat infections.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, no water
contact related health problems were reported but that
does not mean that there were no illnesses. People reporting
similar symptoms are often assumed to have food-borne
causes and are investigated accordingly. The MDH requests
people who have had water contact and become ill to report
their condition to their county health department. The
county's public health staff are required to report such
illnesses to their state counterpart for further investigation.
Timely reports may also prevent others from becoming ill
from the same contaminated site.
Designed to help keep beachgoers and boaters safe from
contaminated water, the MPCA's federally-funded Beach
Program selected 35 public beaches between West Duluth's
Boy Scout Boat Landing and Paradise Beach northeast of
Grand Marais. Regular testing resulted in 22 "no
water contact" advisory postings covering 58 days
at 10 sites. The longest posting was for 39 days at Duluth's
New Duluth Boat Club / 14th Street Landing on Park Point.
Obvious contaminants such as geese and dog droppings
and dirty diapers likely caused the high bacteria levels.
Sewer system spills and overflows or warm, dark undisturbed
water (typically found at the New Duluth Boat Club Landing)
were also suspected contributors. "Our laboratory
can measure only bacteria levels, not determine sources,"
Bauman says. "We won't know for certain what caused
last year's beach advisories because grant restrictions
prevent us from testing samples for DNA markers or track
likely sources. Fortunately, other organizations are able
to do this. The city of Duluth and the Western Lake Superior
Sanitary District are investigating possible sources at
the New Duluth Boat Club site."
One of the more evident observations from the first year
of monitoring is that most advisories were posted in urbanized
areas. This implies that human activities in the Lake
Superior watershed do affect the water quality at its
beaches. The MPCA's Beach Program will release a more
detailed year-end report within the next several months.
During the summer, beachgoers were encouraged to help
protect our ground and surface waters by properly disposing
of pet waste and garbage, keeping diapered children out
of the water (or dressing them in rubber pants), using
natural lawn and garden fertilizers, maintaining septic
systems, emptying marine and recreational boating waste
into proper receptacles, and conserving water.
In addition to the city and the WLSSD, Beach Program
partners include Cook, Lake, and St. Louis counties, the
University of Minnesota's Biology Department, Recreational
Sports Outdoor and Sea Grant Programs and Natural Resources
Research Institute, Duluth Boat Club, Park Point Community
Club, Clean Water Action, and the state's Departments
of Health and Natural Resources Coastal Program. The group
will meet during the winter to evaluate the program's
first-year results and discuss next year's program goals,
projects and expectations.
Currently, Minnesota does not require beach water testing.
As a result, water sampling and announcements of unsafe
swimming conditions are inconsistently issued. The federal
Beach Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act,
an amendment to the Clean Water Act, calls on Minnesota
to monitor water quality at
public beaches and improve public communication about
health risks at coastal beaches on Lake Superior.
For more information about the MPCA's Beach Program,
including this year's sampling results, call Heidi Bauman,
MPCA Beach Program Coordinator, at (218) 723-4953 or (800)
657-3864, or visit its Web site at www.pca.state.mn.us/water/beaches/.