testing finds beach contamination
The Superior Daily Telegram
One of the perks of living by Lake Superior is the ability
to take a dip into its cool, clear waters. Now, however,
swimmers are urged to watch for signs first.
New E. coli testing has shown that water along Lake Superiorís
shores may not be as pristine as residents once believed.
Since the pilot project began in May, 10 beaches in Douglas
County have been closed due to unsafe levels of E. coli
Last week, the Associated Press reported that Wisconsin
Point Beach 2 was closed. That affects the stretch of
beach between the Wisconsin Point peninsula (beach 3)
and the area by Dutchmanís Creek (beach 1).
According to the most recent data from the Wisconsin
Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Point Beach
2 and the outer beach on Barkerís Island are closed.
In addition, advisories have been posted for Wisconsin
Point 1 beach, the inner beach at Barkerís Island and
Allouez Bay Beach 3 (across the point from the lighthouse).
But those designations can change frequently due to retesting.
How can residents tell if it is not safe to swim?
"Youíll see a big red stop sign," said Toni
Glymph, toxicologist with the Wisconsin Department of
Natural Resources. "Everybody should take that sign
Testing takes place at 13 beaches in Douglas County through
the pilot program, funded with federal EPA dollars. Advisory
signs are posted if a water sample shows higher than acceptable
levels of E. coli. Samples with more than three times
the acceptable level trigger a beach closing. Daily retesting
takes place until two tests in a row come back at acceptable
Glymph cautioned that this is the first year of testing.
These levels could be normal, and are not necessarily
The test tracks levels of E. coli bacteria. The strain
tracked is not harmful, said Glymph, but it is an indicator
that there is fecal contamination. A high level is not
a definite sign that there are pathogenic strains in the
mix, but it sends up a warning flag.
"These are places people swim," said Vicki
Drake, environmental health specialist with the Douglas
County Department of Health and Human Services. "The
object is, if people jump into the water they know what
theyíre jumping into."
Since testing began, she has seen levels of the coliform
bacteria ebb and flow along the Lake Superior shoreline.
Often, the culprit is rain.
After a big rainstorm, said Drake, E. coli levels tend
to spike at a minimum of three beaches - one in the Allouez
Bay, one along Wisconsin Point and one at Barkerís Island.
Glymph said that is natural.
"No matter how clean your water is, youíre going
to get runoff," she said. "In general, the numbers
are very low."
Finding the source of the contamination isnít the focus
of this yearís testing. Results from this year will be
used as a baseline for future work, which will include
"This is a pilot year," said Glymph. "Itís
the first time weíve done anything of this magnitude.
Weíre really getting the bugs out. We want feedback from
Glymph suggested using a common-sense approach to swimming
at local beaches.
"After a rainfall avoid the water for 24-48 hours,"
And watch the signs.
"If it says closed, donít go," said Drake.
"If itís an advisory, think about it."