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Great Lakes Article:

County gears up for a summer of testing
By Deb Fitzgerald
Green Bay News Chronicle

With the advent of spring and warm weather comes another season of testing Door County waters to make sure they're not polluted.

From May 17 to Aug. 27, Door County's 28 beaches will be prodded and poked while teams collect data, monitor conditions and conduct tests.

The Door County Health Department will monitor the beaches for E.coli as an indicator of water quality. The Door County Soil and Water Conservation Department (SWCD) - working in conjunction with the Health Department and University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh - will continue to search for the sources of E. coli contamination and other pathogens and viruses in the waters.

While some testing will be done at all 28 beaches, certain beaches will receive more extensive study based on swimmer population, last year's E.coli levels, physical characteristics and proximity to potential pollution sources.

The SWCD will try to learn what's polluting Door County's waters using several different methods, such as identifying the species E.coli came from.

"E. coli have different DNA sequences depending on the type of environment they grow in, whether it's human, dog, cattle, raccoon, or gulls, for example," said Vinni Chomeau, Door County conservationist. "E.coli is so genetically diverse that a cow or raccoon in Door County has a different genetic code then one in Milwaukee or anywhere else, so a genetic database for Door County E.coli will also be created."

Other source identification methods will include: - An avian waste survey. Since bird waste has been linked to high E.coli counts in other areas of the Great Lakes, bird droppings will be surveyed once a week at 11 different beaches and daily at Whitefish Dunes State Park, as a way of quantifying the bird population.

- Samples will be taken after "rain events" (defined as a half-inch of rain within 24 hours) at a minimum of eight beaches. Rain washes off the landscape and becomes a transport system for pollution. Weather events are different across the county, so the automatic rain gauges will be placed within five miles of selected beaches. The gauge automatically calls the samplers as soon as it reaches half an inch of rain.

"This is one of the most important things we're doing," Chomeau said. - A study of physical characteristics. Determining the physical characteristics of each beach will help determine the potential for E. coli to be transported to and persist at a beach site. The study will include identifying the substrate, the types of land cover on the shoreline, predominant wind and current directions and stormwater runoff and its proximity to the beach.

"The way those beaches react to pollution is very different," Chomeau said. What makes Door County such a challenge, Chomeau said, is the existence of so many different beaches with so many different factors and physical characteristics. The differences also could mean different sources of pollution at different beaches, and each will require a different action plan.

Not that an action plan is on the horizon yet. The more information that's collected, the more reliable the data will become, and the more precise a plan can be devised.

This summer will be spent creating the database and compiling statistics, which can then be used for up to 10 years.

It is not known when the data will lead to sources of water pollution, or what type of long-range plan will be necessary to prevent those sources from occurring.

"We'll cross that bridge when we get to it," Chomeau said.

The 2004 beach monitoring and testing will be funded by a $32,800 grant from the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program andin-kind matches and donations totaling $49,200 from the town and city of Sturgeon Bay, town of Sevastopol, Door County Jaycees, Door County Chamber of Commerce, Door Property Owners Association, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association, the Door County Health Department and the Door County Soil and Water Conservation Department.

The SWCD and Door County Board of Supervisors also accepted a $6,000 grant from the Wisconsin Land and Conservation Association to pay for an intern to conduct the avian waste survey during the summer of 2004.

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A public presentation and informational meeting about the beach monitoring and source identification efforts will be held at 7 p.m May 6 at Crossroads at Big Creek. The program will be convened by the county Soil and Water Conservation Department and the Health Department.


Any person or group interested in assisting with beach monitoring, can volunteer for the Adopt-a-Beach program. For details, call Vinni Chomeau at the Door County Soil and Water Conservation Department, 920-746-2214. A training session for Adopt-a-Beach will be held May 22.

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