DNR plan would spur closer scrutiny
Agency hopes for stricter testing of shores
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Beaches along Lake Michigan might soon be tested with
the same kind of vigor and under the same regulations
as Racine beaches.
A plan being developed by the state Department of Natural
Resources would make federal funds available to test all
170 beaches on Lake Michigan and Lake Superior for disease-causing
Dave White, of the grass-roots Racine group Keep Our
Beaches Open and a member of the DNR Beach Work Group,
said last week that the plan would level the playing field
because the same standards and procedures would be used
across all coastal communities.
It also would benefit all of the people who use Wisconsin
beaches because most swimming areas in the state are not
tested unless a problem is detected, White said.
In Door County, for example, monitoring was done at the
main beaches last year only after an outbreak of illnesses
occurred in July. Racine beaches are tested daily.
"What happens in communities that don't test is that
people assume the beaches are clean when they may not
be," White said.
In 2002, advisories were issued at more of Wisconsin's
Lake Michigan beaches than in the past due to high levels
of E. coli bacteria found in the water.
Advisories to warn people about high levels of E. coli
bacteria also were issued more frequently at Racine beaches
this past swimming season.
North Beach had 27 advisories in 2002, up from 17 in
2001; and Zoo Beach had 22 advisories, up from 21 the
In Milwaukee County, high levels of E. coli bacteria
in water prompted warning signs to be posted a record
number of times at three beaches - 50 days at South Shore
out of the 65-day season, 21 days at Bradford and 23 days
at McKinley. Signs advising swimmers not to go into the
water were put up on 41 days at Klode beach in Whitefish
During such warnings, beaches are not closed, but people
are warned to swim at their own risk. That might change
under the new DNR plan.
Julie Kinzelman, microbiologist for the City of Racine,
said the DNR was considering having communities actually
close beaches if high levels of bacteria are detected.
The DNR last week concluded a series of meetings seeking
public comment on the monitoring plan. A hearing was held
in Racine on Dec. 4. The DNR expects to announce its plan
Meanwhile, in Racine, a study looking at the impact of
grooming sand is yielding good results and continues to
attract international attention.
The study has been looking at whether grooming the beach
affects the presence of bacteria in the sand, if the bacteria
count is lower in ungroomed portions of the beach and
what the impact is on bacteria in the sand if the sand
is turned over at deeper levels during grooming.
"This past season, we put into practice with the actual
beach grooming equipment what we had found while doing
the test plots that we hand-raked," Kinzelman said.
What was found is that when the sand is wet or damp,
if it is groomed deeper and the finishing process is eliminated,
less bacteria is detected, Kinzelman said.
Kinzelman said the city's beach groomers will be putting
this finding into practice for this summer.
"We will see if that will give us some relief from that
non-point source of pollution, but it won't be a cure-all,"
Kinzelman and her co-researchers presented the findings
in September at the 5th International Symposium on Sediment
Quality Assessment in Chicago.
Other lake water quality research done in Racine also
is gaining international attention. This month's edition
of the Applied and Environmental Microbiology journal
has published a study written by Kinzelman and co-researchers
on "Enterococci as Indicators of Lake Michigan Recreational
Water Quality: Comparison of Two Methodologies and Their
Impacts on Public Health Regulatory Events."
"I've been getting e-mails from all over the world requesting
reprints," Kinzelman said. This past week she heard from
people in Moscow, Portugal and India.
Also, research scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
are beginning a groundbreaking study that will provide
answers to the persistent question: Where did the contaminants
The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District has awarded
a $772,000 grant to the Great Lakes WATER Institute for
a three-part study of water quality in the lower Milwaukee
River and harbor.
The study should determine, once and for all, whether
sewer overflows in Milwaukee could contaminate beaches
The groundbreaking nature of the research, however, comes
from the set of tools employed to identify sources.
A triple-play combination - genetic makeup of E. coli
bacteria, antibiotic resistance of the bacteria, and the
presence of caffeine in water samples - will clarify potential
sources, said Sandra McLellan, an assistant scientist
at the WATER Institute.
McLellan and other scientists in her laboratory have
been identifying numerous strains of E. coli from human
sewage, gull droppings, cattle manure and dog feces. E.
coli comes only from the intestines of warm-blooded animals
and can indicate fecal contamination of water.
Strains from each host have evolved with distinct genetic
"fingerprints," or sequences of DNA. Those with similar
fingerprints are recognized as coming from a particular
host species, McLellan said.
Gulls are issue
She began assembling this piece of the puzzle more than
two years ago when her laboratory first studied E. coli
at Milwaukee's South Shore Beach. Her finding: Gulls at
the beach and nearby parking lot are the largest source
of E. coli bacteria in shoreline water.
Her database of E. coli genetic profiles will guide all
future water quality studies here and in other shoreline
The reason is that the DNA fingerprints of E. coli removed
from a water sample can be compared to her collection.
Then, McLellan can identify the bacterium's host, which
is close to pinpointing a source.
In addition to continuing her work on genetic profiles
in the next study, McLellan's team this year also is looking
for evidence of antibiotic resistance among E. coli and
the presence of caffeine. The presence of either would
indicate human waste in water.
For information about the group, Keep Our Beaches
Open, call Dave White at (262) 639-0930, Ext.