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Great Lakes Article:

Beach problems detected earlier
Increase in closings a result of improved monitoring
By Mike Hoeft
Green Bay Press Gazette
Published November 4, 2005

Beach closings because of bacteria contamination have increased on Green Bay and Lake Michigan in recent years, but that doesn’t mean the problem is getting worse.

“Actually we’re doing a better job documenting the problem,” said Judy Beck of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lake Michigan office.

The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act of 2000 provided federal funding for more monitoring and helped highlight the issue, she said. The funds need to be reauthorized so that managers can detect sources of contamination and better protect the watershed.

Beck spoke during a three-day State of Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes Beach conferences at the KI Convention Center in Green Bay. Lake Michigan is the source of drinking water for 1.5 million Wisconsin residents.

Urban storm-water runoff, agriculture runoff, sewer overflows, malfunctioning septic systems and wildlife feces are all potential sources for beach-water contamination.

“Keep in mind there are many elements that can lead to beach contamination,” she said.

Beck said scientists hope to build models that can predict problems at beaches.

One problem that is getting worse is an increase in nuisance algae washing up on shores around Lake Michigan.

Cladophora — while unsightly and stinky — does not pose a direct health risk, said Shaili Pfeiffer, a water quality specialist with the state Department of Natural Resources.

The slimy black mess is a naturally occurring algae, not raw sewage. Cladophora bloomed in the 1960s, then disappeared. A key factor in its resurgence may be tied to the proliferation of invasive zebra mussels in Lake Michigan, Pfeiffer said. Zebra mussels filter the water, increasing its clarity and allowing sunlight to penetrate deeper. That creates more places for the algae to grow and reach nuisance levels.

Pfeiffer urged residents to get involved with the Wisconsin Great Lakes Strategy, a plan that will help guide future restoration and protection efforts.

“Tell us specific actions that are needed,” Pfeiffer said. “There’s a role for everyone.”

The strategy plan will serve as the vehicle for coordinating and allocating resources and will better position Wisconsin to begin programs in the event Congress approves funding for restoration of the Great Lakes.

Based on the comments from the public, the Wisconsin Great Lakes Strategy will be revised and finalized in December.

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