water-testing program may return this summer Steve Gunn
The Muskegon Chronicle
swimming areas in Muskegon County are known for their
clean, safe water.
County officials hope
to enhance that reputation by bringing back a widespread
beach-testing sanitation program.
But getting the program
off the ground will be up to city and township officials,
who will have to decide whether they want to pay for beach
testing in their communities.
Any community that joins
the program could help enhance the county's reputation
for safe beaches, a reputation that isn't so common these
days among shoreline cities in the Great Lakes region.
There were hundreds of beach closings in states that border
Lake Michigan last year, resulting from the presence of
raw sewage in the water.
"It has a lot to do
with tourism," said Vicki Webster, environmental health
supervisor at the Muskegon County Health Department. "Last
year we got a bunch of calls from people in Milwaukee,
wondering if they came over on the plane, would the water
be clean. If we monitor, we can continue to tell them
the water quality is good."
Officials at the Muskegon
County Health Department believe they will be eligible
for two sources of funding that will help them pay for
beach-testing this summer.
The program would be
designed to test water samples from as many as 27 area
beaches for the presence of E.coli, a bacteria that lives
in the intestines of warm-blooded animals. While water-borne
E. coli will not infect swimmers, high levels indicate
that harmful bacteria might be present.
Officials are preparing
a grant application to the Michigan Department of Environmental
Quality for a still undetermined amount of money. There's
a very good chance that the grant money, provided by the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency specifically for
Lake Michigan beach testing, will be available for the
county by summer, said Webster.
County officials also
expect to get roughly $23,000 back from the DEQ for beach
testing. The county was recently fined about $47,000 for
sewer spills that polluted surface waters in the area,
but state officials told them they could probably ask
for about half of the money back for beach testing.
The grant money and
the refunded fine money should be enough to get the program
started, said Webster.
It would work like
A health department
employee would travel to local beaches throughout the
summer, collecting water samples and taking them to the
Grand Valley State University Annis Water Resources Institute
in downtown Muskegon for testing.
All 27 public beaches
in the county would be eligible for testing, but the city
or township where each beach is located will have to pay
a still undetermined fee to participate, Webster said.
In the case of state parks, the Michigan Department of
Natural Resources would be responsible for the fee.
The fee will be less
expensive for the 10 public beaches along Lake Michigan,
because the EPA grant money can be applied to those beaches,
Webster said. But every local government that participates
would have to pay something, she said.
Every beach in the program
must be tested at a minimum of three locations over five
weeks, and each sample costs a minimum of $15 to analyze,
so fees are necessary to cover costs, Webster said.
"We're putting together
a package to offer to municipalities and state parks,
telling them we'll make sure your beach is tested and
here's how much it will cost you," Webster said.
The renewed beach-testing
program is the result of a new state law that says all
public beaches must be tested on a regular basis, or the
local government must post a sign warning swimmers that
they haven't been tested.
The testing focuses
on levels of E. coli bacteria, which is typically traced
to human or animal waste, Webster said. High levels of
bacteria could be a sign of sewer or septic flow into
a body of water, she said.
By doing the testing,
local officials can continue to brag about clean water
in the area, Webster said. In 2001, 17 area beaches were
tested throughout the summer, and the results were "golden,"
Webster said. Last year the testing was limited to Muskegon's
Pere Marquette Park, which again passed with flying colors,
Muskegon County originally
had a large-scale beach testing program in the 1980s,
which revealed many sewage problems at area beaches, Webster
said. The problems were addressed over the years, the
water started testing clean, and the program was dropped
in 1988, she said.
This information is posted
for nonprofit educational purposes, in accordance with U.S.
Code Title 17, Chapter 1,Sec. 107 copyright laws.
For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml.
If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for
purposes of your own that go beyond "fair use," you
must obtain permission from the copyright owner.