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Great Lakes Article:

E. coli plagues Manitowoc beaches while levels decrease elsewhere
Associated Press

MANITOWOC, Wis. - High levels of E. coli bacteria in Manitowoc County this summer continue to plague swimmers and baffle scientists even as contamination has decreased along many Great Lakes beaches.

Excessive E. coli, which indicates potentially unsafe levels of fecal matter in the water, has prompted warnings to swimmers and forced Point Beach to close twice this summer.

Warning signs have become near fixtures on other beaches in Manitowoc County, where E. coli readings have Manitowoc Public Health Director James Blaha perplexed.

"If you look at it on a map, there's nothing around there, just state forest and campsites," he said. "You would think it would be one of the cleanest areas, and it's been one of the worst."

Guy Willman, superintendent of Point Beach State Forest, said there has been only one weekend this summer without a closure or advisory. "Nobody has any answers," he said.

Sewage overflows and storm water runoff carrying fecal matter into the lakes remain the primary sources of contamination for beaches, said Cameron Davis, executive director of the Lake Michigan Federation.

Last summer, 68 people became sick after swimming off Nicolet Beach in Peninsula State Park in Door County. After that, officials tested 23 beaches five times a week and closed 13 beaches at various times.

This summer, closings along Lakes Michigan and Superior have decreased, and many beaches are relatively bacteria free. But health officials also have increased the levels it takes to close a beach.

Last year, Door County health officials closed beaches when the E. coli level exceeded 235 colonies per liter of water. This year, readings of 235 to 999 colonies result in signs warning people not to swim, and the beaches are closed when the level exceeds 1,000 colonies per liter.

Even at Point Beach, where the level has exceeded 235 colonies in half the samples, the beach has closed only twice, compared with six times in 2002.

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