Racine closes its beaches
By David Steinkraus
The Journal Times
Published August 6th, 2004
The number of beach closings nationwide increased 51
percent from 2002 to 2003, and that illustrates the need
for more action on improving water quality, says a report
released Thursday by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
On the same day, Racine closed its beaches for the first
time this summer.
There were at least 18,284 days of closings or advisories
in 2003, 64 extended closings of seven to 13 consecutive
weeks, and 60 permanent closings of more than 13 consecutive
weeks, the NRDC report says. Now in its 14th year, the
report was based on information compiled by the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency and supplemental information requested
Great Lakes states showed a similar increase in closings
and advisories - from 1,405 days in 2002 to 1,854 in 2003.
In Wisconsin, the number increased from 468 days to 738,
the report said. On Thursday morning, the city closed
its Lake Michigan beaches because bacteria concentrations
were 17 to 24 times higher than established limits, said
Marcia Fernholz, the city's director of environmental
health. Previously this summer the city has issued only
advisories, which signify an increased risk of illness
but which don't forbid people from swimming.
"But we had 1.34 inches of rain and 3-foot waves.
And the water was very turbid," Fernholz said.
According to records compiled by the city Health Department,
Racine's Lake Michigan beaches were closed a total of
47 days in 2002 and 57 days in 2003. Each separate beach
closure counts as one day, so if both beaches are closed
on the same day, that counts as two days of closings.
This summer, advisories have been posted on nine days
for North Beach and seven days for Zoo Beach.
Numbers from last year and this year are not completely
comparable, however, because the city has changed its
rules for posting beaches. Warnings are no longer automatically
issued for two consecutive days, so that automatically
reduces the number of warnings this year.
Looking for problems Wisconsin tested 97 percent of its
beaches in 2003, according to the NRDC report. Of its
neighbors on the Great Lakes, Minnesota tests 100 percent,
Illinois tests 78 percent, Indiana tests 83 percent, and
Michigan tests 61 percent.
The primary cause of the increased number of advisories
in the Great Lakes, and in the rest of the nation, was
a large increase in the number of beaches being monitored
and adoption of new standards for measuring bacterial
contamination, the NRDC report said.
In a press release, the Sierra Club, Friends of Milwaukee's
Rivers, and the Lake Michigan Federation used the occasion
of the report's issuance to criticize the lack of knowledge
about the causes of beach water contamination and the
lack of action on cleaning up near shore waters.
"MMSD and other agencies would like the public to
believe that (beaches) are closed only because of gulls.
We know from this summer in Milwaukee and beyond that
sewage overflows also put public health and water quality
at risk," Cameron Davis, executive director of the
Lake Michigan Federation, said in the press release.
Earlier this week, the state Department of Natural Resources
requested that the Department of Justice sue the Metropolitan
Milwaukee Sewerage District Milwaukee for violating pollution
rules and dumping billions of gallons of sewage into Lake
Michigan this spring when heavy rains overloaded the system.
Davis said the state and federal governments have not
enforced laws that could have prevented that.
In Racine the wastewater utility isn't in trouble with
the state, and it hasn't had any system overflows since
May, said Tom Bunker, general manager of the utility.
In the spring, 1.2 million gallons of wastewater were
released without treatment. The utility's project to increase
its sewage capacity already shows in those overflows because
they were localized problems and not systemic, Bunker
"The beach closings thing is a tough issue, though,"
he said. Wastewater plants have problems following rains,
but the weather has been relatively dry of late, with
no overflows, yet beaches have been posted. That points
to sources of contamination other than wastewater plants,
The NRDC report calls for better notice to the public
about water quality problems, for more research, for stronger
pollution rules and enforcement of those rules, and for
better treatment of sewage.
People can also have a direct effect, the report says,
by redirecting storm water into gardens or yards instead
of storm sewers, picking up animal waste, and maintaining