Summer is E.Coli Season on the Great Lakes

Jul 18, 2017

Credit in.gov/idem/lakemichigan / Indiana's Lake Michigan Program

No one wants to eagerly head to the beach just to find out it’s closed, but with summer storms affecting Lake Michigan’s water quality that could be common. Beaches close unexpectedly because of polluted waters. Polluted waters are very serious, they can contain disease-causing pathogens such as E.Coli bacteria.

Deputy Director of Communications Tara Wolf from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management explains what E.Coli is.

 

“Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a naturally occurring bacteria that lives in the digestive tracts of humans and animals.  The presence of E.Coli in the beach water along Lake Michigan’s shoreline is a strong indication that the water may have recently been contaminated by sewage or animal fecal waste that may contain many types of harmful disease-causing organisms.

 

Swimming in and swallowing beach water contaminated with high levels of E.Coli can make you sick with abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, fever, headache and muscle aches.Tara wolf tells us how to avoid polluted Indiana beaches.

 

“The best way to plan a trip to the beach is to go online at www.idem.IN.gov/beaches and check out BeachGuard for the latest water quality status of the beaches before leaving home.

Screen shot of the Indiana BeachAlert App.
Credit Stock Photo / IDEM

Indiana Dunes Ranger Bruce Rowe talks about how the weather can affect E.Coli levels.

“When you have certain times in the summer when it’s rainier that’s when you’ll have higher E.Coli counts. So really if we had a large rain today I wouldn’t recommend coming to the beach tomorrow unless you check with the park.”

An easy way to check your local beach E.Coli levels is with the Beach alert App designed by the Indiana Department of environmental management. The app keeps people updated on the water quality of beaches in your area. For more information on how to stay informed on your local beach and learn how you can help keep Lake Michigan clean visit www.idem.IN.gov/beaches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a full transcript of the interview with Barry Sneed Public Information Officer Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

MF: In simple words please explain for people what is E-coli and how does it can affect someone? BS: Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a naturally occurring bacteria that lives in the digestive tracts of humans and animals.  The presence of E.coli in the beach water along Lake Michigan’s shoreline is a strong indication that the water may have recently been contaminated by sewage or animal fecal waste that may contain many types of harmful disease-causing organisms. For this reason, E.coli serves as the fecal bacteria indicator for purposes of Indiana’s recreational water quality criteria.  Swimming in and ingesting beach water contaminated with high levels of E. coli can potentially produce symptoms of gastroenteritis (aka stomach flu) such as abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, fever, headache and muscle aches.

MF: What increases the chances of local beaches to have E-coli in the water? BS:The presence of gulls, geese and other wildlife on or near the Lake Michigan Shoreline may increase the chances of beach water quality samples exceeding Indiana’s single sample maximum water quality standard for E.coli of 235 cfu/100ml. Nonpoint source pollution such as untreated stormwater runoff and the use of excess lawn fertilizers may also contribute to high levels of E. coli.  Heavy rainfall events that trigger Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) may also negatively impact beach water quality.

MF:Back in 2014 & years before that some Indiana beaches were reported to have some of the most polluted beaches such as East Chicago Marina and Buffington Harbor in Gary, What has Indiana done to improve the water quality of beaches that had a past of being very polluted? BS: In 2004, the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act of 2000 (aka The BEACH Act) authorized the US EPA to pass money along to all States, Tribes, and Territories that are adjacent to Coastal Waters (e.g. The Great Lakes) to implement Beach Monitoring and Notification Programs. IDEM has applied for this grant funding and administered the Lake Michigan Beaches Monitoring and Notification Program every year on behalf of the state of Indiana. Only “non-federally owned” beaches along Lake Michigan are eligible to receive BEACH Act funding and participate in the Beach Monitoring and Notification Program. Through federal programs such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), IDEM has funded and provided oversight of projects involving Beach Sanitary Surveys, Microbial Source Tracking, Nearshore Bird Management programs and best management practices to help improve the water quality of Indiana’s Lake Michigan Beaches.  IDEM also conducts education and outreach which helps to bring public awareness to the impacts of beach water quality. Additionally, IDEM coordinates a group of local stakeholders committed to improving the water quality at the three beaches managed by the City of East Chicago (Jeorse Park I, Jeorse Park II and Buffington Harbor). The Jeorse Park Task Force is comprised of federal, state and local partners for the purpose of leveraging projects and funding to remove the Beach Closures Beneficial Use Impairment for the Grand Calumet River Area of Concern. Projects coordinated by the Jeorse Park Task Force that are currently underway include Beach shoreline modeling by Michigan State University and fish habitat/ecosystem restoration by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

MF: What are all the things Indiana beaches do if the E-coli levels are too high? Does it vary each beach what is done? BS:The beaches participating in Indiana’s Lake Michigan Beaches Monitoring and Notification Program are required to notify the public whenever a single grab sample has exceeded Indiana’s recreational water quality standard of 235 cfu/100ml. There is no state or federal threshold that triggers whether a Contamination Advisory (yellow sign) or a Beach Closure (red sign) is issued. Each individual beach manager has the discretion on whether to post an Advisory or Closure, so it varies from beach to beach. The beach managers are required to post all notification actions (Advisories and Closures) in the BeachGuard online system, as well as posting the appropriate signage at the beach.

MF: According to Indiana.gov there’s a phone app that's been created to notify people about the water quality, what Indiana beaches are covered in that app? When was that app made?  BS: The Indiana BeachAlert (iOS) app for iPhones uses the BeachGuard online system as its data source, so all beaches that have data entered into BeachGuard are covered in the app.  All beaches participating in the Lake Michigan Beaches Monitoring and Notification Program are required to input their monitoring and notification data into BeachGuard daily. BeachGuard also contains monitoring and notification data for other beaches, such as the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore beaches and LaPorte County inland beaches. The Indiana BeachAlert iPhone app, developed entirely in-house by IDEM, was published on April 10, 2014, the very first of its kind in the Apple iTunes store.

MF: Do all Indiana beaches have signs that notify people on the pollution levels? What are the signs? BS: All the beaches participating in the Monitoring and Notification Program receive a post and set of 5 signs to utilize at public access points at their beaches. The five signs are:

Blue - This Water Quality Notice sign informs the public that the beach is monitored for E. coli and has the IDEM Beach Program website address printed on it.

 

Green – This water quality status sign indicates that the latest monitoring results were below the 235 cfu/100 ml single sample standard, and the beach is “open” for swimming.

 

Yellow – This is the Contamination Advisory (aka Advisory) sign, which warns of the need for caution and includes tips on how to reduce the risk of illness. A Beach Manager may post this sign “pre-emptively,” if conditions that may cause elevated E.coli concentrations are deemed to be present, or when the latest water sample has exceeded the 235 cfu/100 ml single sample standard. Swimming is still allowed under the yellow Advisory sign.

 

Red – This is the Beach Closure sign. Beach Managers may choose to post this sign, in lieu of the Advisory sign, and close the beach for swimming when a sample exceedance has occurred.

 

White - This sign has Spanish translations of the red, yellow and green water quality status signs (listed above).   

    

MF: What is a way people can avoid making plans to going to the beach showing up and seeing its closed down for the day cause of E-coli levels? BS:The best way to plan a trip to the beach is to go online at www.idem.IN.gov/beaches and check out BeachGuard for the latest water quality status of the beaches before leaving home. If already “out and about,” potential beachgoers may access either the android mobile platform of BeachGuard or the Indiana BeachAlert mobile app for iPhones to see which beaches are open. If your favorite beach happens to be closed or under an advisory, the mobile apps will suggest beaches that are open and nearby your location.

MF: How can people help the water quality stay clean? BS:There are many ways that people can help protect the water quality at Indiana’s beaches, such as:

Picking up litter and disposing of it properly

·         Cleaning up after pets

·         Not feeding birds and wildlife at the beach

·         Using waterproof diapers and changing frequently

·         Avoiding using high phosphorous fertilizers

For more information on Indiana’s Lake Michigan Beaches Monitoring and Notification Program, please visit: www.idem.IN.gov/beaches.