HDNW Begins Beach Safety Program

Retesting and some source tracking new this summer

The Health Department of Northwest Michigan (HDNW) begins its annual Beach Monitoring Program Monday, June 17. Over the summer, through Friday, Aug. 30, water sampling will take place at about 50 Great Lakes and Inland Lakes throughout Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties.

The Beach Monitoring Program involves staff taking water samples at area beaches early in the mornings and delivering the samples to Northern Michigan Regional Lab in Gaylord for evaluation. Testing is done to identify potentially high levels of bacteria, namely E. coli. The process involves an employee wading into the water, filling a bottle with the water, and proper labeling.

The lab then shares the results with HDNW Environmental Health Director Jeremy Fruk. If an elevated level of E. coli is found, 300 E. coli per 100 milliliters (ml) of water, a beach advisory will be issued, and the water resampled. Same-day reporting is new this summer at eight beaches, with plans for expansion. The change will provide the public with more timely information on when an advisory is issued and lifted.

What Is a Beach Advisory?

A beach advisory is a temporary recommendation regarding safe water use when E. coli levels are elevated. Based on standards set by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), the advisory recommends that people not enter the water, or they limit their water contact to wading, depending on the E. coli level.

If there is an advisory in place, signs are posted at the beach for public awareness, HDNW will issue a news release and post the results on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. When tests show safe levels, the signs are removed, and the advisory cancellation made public. In addition, a chart of the week’s tests and their results will be posted at https://nwhealth.org/beach-monitoring-program/ each Friday, beginning June 21.

Looking at the Cause

In addition to same-day reporting, HDNW is beginning more detailed tests to determine the source of high E. coli levels in the water. Beaches were chosen for this new process based on five-year averages of where the most advisories have been issued.

“Between the same-day reporting and the source-tracking, we hope to provide quicker responses for issuing and lifting advisories,” Fruk says. “The people who live on or near the lake, and seasonal tourists who visit our beaches, have come to trust that the water is being monitored for their safety. We want our community to be able to recreate safely!”

In addition to local samples, the public has real-time access to water quality results for statewide beaches through EGLE’s website. Information can be found at www.egle.state.mi.us/beach/.