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