E. coli plagues Manitowoc beaches
while levels decrease elsewhere
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
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,"
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.