available to battle beach bacteria
By Tom Henry
As pleasant as the weather has been lately, itíll be about
six weeks before people get out the suntan lotion, head
to Maumee Bay State Park, and feel the sand between their
The arrival of Memorial Day weekend brings images of
kids splashing in water or making mud pies. But it also
signals the beginning of another rite: summerís annual
Maumee Bay State Park is one of a number of public and
private facilities nationwide where otherwise tourist-friendly
beaches have been fouled by unexplained spikes of bacteria
from time to time.
Theories abound. But the problem continues to gain national
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agencyís headquarters
in Washington recently announced it is making $10 million
available for 35 states and U.S. territories to help sunbathers
avoid unnecessary bacteria at coastal beaches, including
those in the Great Lakes region. The money will be used
by state health departments to monitor water quality and
notify the public of problems that arise.
At first glance, $10 million sounds impressive. Divide
it 35 ways and it comes to $285,714 - hardly enough for
cleanups. Itís strictly for continued testing.
"Any money is welcome, but itís very small in regard
to the problem," Amy Simpson of the Ohio Public Interest
Research Group said. "Itís a step in the right direction,
but a very small step."
Molly Flanagan of the Ohio Environmental Council said
she is pleased money has been earmarked for monitoring.
But she urged officials to do more than look for the menace
and post swimming advisories as they become necessary.
"We need to identify the causes," she said.
It is not immediately clear how much the program will
directly benefit the Lake Erie waters of Maumee Bay State
Park, plagued by intermittent spikes of bacteria for years.
The parkís inland pond, barely a stoneís throw from the
lake, has consistently had lower bacteria counts and fewer
Numbers at all beaches fluctuate, largely because of
changing weather patterns.
By and large, the best advice is to avoid all lake and
pond water for hours after strong winds and thunderstorms
- preferably even a day or two, depending on the size
of the storm. The rain and wind stirs up lake sediment,
where strains of E. coli bacteria that make people sick
appear to be a lot hardier than once believed, officials
The EPA has for years sponsored conferences in various
regions, including the Great Lakes, to help officials
discuss common beach-bacteria problems.
Kurt Erichsen, vice president of environmental planning
for the Toledo Metropolitan Council of Governments, said
any EPA assistance is welcomed, even if itís just drawing
more attention to the magnitude of the problem on a regional
or national level. But heís unsure how much direct involvement
the federal agency will have at Maumee Bay State Park,
given that itís a state-run facility.
Much of the research done there has come from a hodgepodge
of state and local funding sources, such as the cities
of Toledo and Oregon, council of governments, University
of Toledo, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Ohio
Water Development Authority, and others. One federal agency
that has been involved along the way is the U.S. Geological
Survey, Mr. Erichsen said.
"You put all the pieces together and you make it
work," he said.
The recent EPA announcement was in regard to a second
round of grants that agency is making available to states
for enhanced monitoring and communication, Chris Weiss,
Ohio Department of Health spokesman, said.
Ohio is eligible for up to $224,227 this year, down slightly
from its allocation of about $227,000 last year.
It plans to apply for the full amount by the June 10
deadline. It will divvy up whatever it receives among
Lake Erie beaches. Beaches that are inland or along the
Ohio River arenít eligible for funding from the coastal
program, Mr. Weiss said.
"Weíre happy it has been made available," he
Other officials agree, knowing how the war in Iraq has
put a crimp on federal funding.
Ohio ranks 27th out of 35 states and U.S. territories
eligible for funding. Michigan, eligible for $283,360,
ranks 15th. Both trail U.S. territories such as Puerto
Rico, Northern Mariana, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and
The U.S. EPA said its eligibility formula was based largely
on climate, beach acreage, usage, and the length of swimming