gears up to battle beach bacteria
Green Bay Press Gazette
Unless youre a polar bear, swimming and beach contamination
probably rank low among this weeks priorities.
Gone are the daily headlines of last summer carrying news
about beach-related illnesses and a record number of beach
closures because of high counts of E. coli bacteria in
the water in Northeastern Wisconsin.
Swimmers like Lee Macrander of High Cliff wonder what
happened to all the fuss. She owns property near Frank
Murphy Park in Egg Harbor, one of 11 Door County beach
areas hit by the problem last summer.
all leave the beaches and you never hear more about it,
Macrander said. We never really did hear definitively
what was causing this (water contamination).
Away from the spotlight, however, local and state officials
are working on the problem. Theyve prepared a battle
plan for the coming summer season to monitor bacteria,
decide when to close a beach and choose methods for notifying
On Wednesday and Thursday, the state Department of Natural
Resources will hold meetings in Green Bay and Sturgeon
Bay asking for the publics advice on a new statewide
The summer of 2002 marked the first time beach closures
hit Door Countys many lakeshore parks. Previously,
the county did little monitoring, but an outbreak of more
than 60 illnesses at Peninsula State Park in July jump-started
a local program.
The problem, once confined largely to Racine, Milwaukee
and Madison beaches, is now a statewide crisis that could
This winter the DNR has drafted a comprehensive new testing
strategy. It will apply to all counties with beaches on
the Great Lakes.
The agency has compiled a list of hundreds of public access
points on Lake Michigan and Green Bay 43 are in
The beaches vary from simple boat ramps to
sand beaches with lifeguards.
Without making any assumptions, the agency wants to know:
Which beaches are busiest and most important to the public?
What kind of information does the public want about bacteria
and water contamination at beaches?
How should the public be notified when a beach is closed?
DNR officials from the Bureau of Watershed Management
will attend the meetings to describe the proposals. They
will encourage written or oral comments.
For example, the beach at Whitefish Dunes State Park has
never been classified as a swimming beach despite thousands
of visitors each year. The state wants to know if the
public wishes water at the beach to be tested for bacteria
and how often testing should occur.
state will use the public input to place requirements
on grant money. The agency has $238,000 to distribute
this year from the federal BEACH Act of 2000.
Door County has requested a major chunk of that money:
Like last year, beach advisories would be issued if E.
coli levels reach the federal limit 235 colony-forming
units per 10 milliliters of water. Anything above that
is believed to place swimmers at risk for bacteria-borne
The states new protocol, however, also suggests
that public beaches might not be closed completely until
the level reaches 1,000 colonies. Between 235 and 1,000
colonies, swimmers would hit the water at their own risk.
Rhonda Kolberg, Door County Public Health Department director,
said she would rather keep things simple and close beaches
entirely once the federal limit of 235 is reached, in
the interest of public safety.
source not studied
DNR meetings skip over a major issue the source
Most of the federal money is only for measuring how many
bacteria exist in the water at each beach.
Toni Glymph, state toxicologist for the DNR Bureau of
Watershed Management, is coordinating the states
approach. She said accurate, frequent testing could help
to determine sources. Up until July 2002, little information
about local bacteria conditions exists.
For example, personnel taking water samples likely will
note other factors such as wind direction, rainfall, temperature
and presence of sea gulls or other shorebirds. That information
can help paint a picture of how and when bacteria grow.
testing and notification plan is a start. People need
to be aware of risks and make informed choices,
Some money left over from last years federal program
may be used to track sources, primarily whether the bacteria
come from animal or human waste, Glymph said. Widely suspected
sources of bacteria include sewage overflows, leaking
septic systems, shorebirds, boating waste and surface
Meanwhile in Door County, Kolberg has submitted a $79,000
plan to Glymphs office for approval once the protocol
countys plan relies heavily on student labor from
the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh to take water samples
and analyze them daily. Students would work at public
labs in the sewage-treatment plants for Ephraim and Sturgeon
Kolberg, working with the university, proposes paying
four students $10 an hour and a supervising student $12
an hour through the summer months for a total of $35,800.
They would all be graduate students in microbiology. Last
year, the countys limited staff had to abandon other
duties to pursue water sampling.
Other expenses include $15,000 for lab equipment, $7,500
for office equipment and $5,000 for mileage.
guess it would be a great summer job for a student in
this field, Kolberg said.
She proposes testing water at the busiest beaches every
day. Beaches with less use would be tested only weekly
unless a problem emerged. The university offered to provide
some testing to determine the source of bacteria.
hopes the new program will help track the source. Thats
her main worry. She said she joins her husband, three
children and dog at the beach frequently.
they really believe there are multiple sources, I hope
they start making sure they are controlling the sources
they can control, like sewage, Macrander said. Otherwise
I think the TV news and the newspapers are a good way
to get the word out.
Beaches on the Green Bay side of Door County were hit
hardest last year.
Mary Junion, who lives near Whitefish Dunes on Lake Michigan,
said she thinks the county and state should concentrate
efforts on Green Bay.
every day may be overkill unless theres a problem,
Even Marcella Desotelle, who also lives near Frank Murphy
Park, believes the state must identify a source.
personally dont swim, but I guess the beaches are
very important to the hotels and businesses around here,