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Great Lakes Article:

Door County debates solutions to bacteria troubles
Mapping program for county already under way
By Paul Brinkmann
The Green Bay Press-Gazette

To volunteer

Call the Door County Soil and Water Conservation Department at (920) 746-2214 or the Lake Michigan Federation Adopt-A-Beach program at (312) 939-0838. For information about Adopt-a-Beach, see:

STURGEON BAY - Planning, money, detailed knowledge of geology and lots of volunteer elbow grease. Those are the keys to coping with and overcoming Door County’s bacteria problems, county residents and officials said in recent interviews.

"We have a task to do," Door County Conservationist William Schuster said. "It’s an issue that, with proper management, life goes on."

Historically, Door County’s struggle with bacteria involved only groundwater and well contamination. Growing awareness of beach contamination, however, is adding a new dimension to the fight.

The link between the two areas - groundwater and beaches - hasn’t been well established yet. But efforts to solve the beach problem can only help build understanding of groundwater in the county. While county officials say they have made bacteria a top priority, some environmentalists in the county say the only way to control the problem is to control development.

Starting last year, the county’s Soil and Water Conservation Department kicked off a bacteria source identification program for 31 county beaches. Last week, the Door County Board agreed to fund the program at $82,000. A state grant will pay 40 percent, or $32,800. The Door County Chamber of Commerce Thursday approved a $5,000 contribution to the program and other agencies have offered help.

The program is ticking along already in the conservation department:

Conservationist Karl Kuepper is creating a detailed map for the area surrounding every beach, or watershed. The maps will show where rainwater could be washing bacteria into the nearby lake or bay. Eventually, bacteria sources could be eliminated from those watersheds.

Red-flag features, such as nearby stormwater sewers, sewage-treatment plants and bird-nesting sites, also will be listed for each beach.

Rain gauges already have been ordered. They will be installed at every beach, to be monitored by volunteers who live nearby. Exact knowledge of rainfall may help to predict when a beach will go bad. The Lake Michigan Federation has about 20 volunteers signed up to help in Door County.

County Board Chairman Charlie Most Jr. points to the funding of the source program as proof the board is committed to dealing with the bacteria issue.

"I think it is the major issue in Door County. If you look at every town and village that has done planning surveys, citizens identify water quality as the top concern," Most said.

"To say you’re going to cure the problem 100 percent is not realistic, but I think you have a County Board that’s committed to using the resources we have available to deal with the problem."

Jerry Viste, president of the Door County Environmental Council, thinks there’s a lot of room for improvement. He said restraining and guiding development is the only answer.

"A lot of these issues are a byproduct of ‘more of everything,’" Viste said. "The chamber wants more, the gift shops want more, the condo developers want more. You’re going to have development, but it should have rhyme or reason and more public participation. The whole county’s planning and zoning to this point has been designed to make it as easy as possible for the developers."

At least one development in Door County seems to have found a permanent, although expensive, solution.

John Forster, president of Hidden Ridge Resort Condominium Association near Sturgeon Bay, recently dealt with repeated bacteria problems in the development’s public wells.

The association hired an engineering firm that studied the issue and gave a range of options, most of which were more than the association could afford. The firm, Foth & Van Dyke of Green Bay, discovered iron bacteria, a natural phenomenon, was aiding the growth and existence of fecal bacteria.

The resort now pays $18,000 a year for two annual treatments with phosphorus and chlorine, Forster said. Monthly samples are taken to ensure safety of the water. "There’s no inexpensive way to get by," Forster said. "But our water is a lot clearer than it’s ever been, so we think we’re on our way."

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