There’s good news and even better news about Michigan’s 1,237 public swimming beaches.
The good news is that water at most monitored beaches is clean most of the time. The better news is that a modern testing tool allows for quicker turnaround on public beach monitoring samples. The faster turnaround help protect swimmers. The tool also enables officials to detect and control the major sources contributing to lowered quality at beaches that do have problems.
Dr. Shannon Briggs, coordinator of beach monitoring for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), explains that advances in sample analysis using a method known as quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) can yield measurements or estimates of Escherichia coli (E. coli) within several hours.
Why is Beach Monitoring Important?
When bacteria such as E. coli are present, other dangerous bacteria and viruses that are more expensive to measure may also be present. High levels of E. coli indicate that microorganisms of concern to human health, such as Salmonella and norovirus, may also be in the water.
Thanks to the quicker turnaround time, when it’s necessary, officials can post warnings or close beaches the same day. The old culture method had a 24-hour turnaround, meaning that pollution might have dissipated by the time results became available.
New Water Monitoring Technology
The new method also speeds the identification of pollution sources by targeting genetic markers (DNA) of sources. The results can distinguish between human and animal sources, helping governments correct problems. The answers can be complicated and expensive—or “as simple as lids on garbage barrels so gulls are not dive-bombing for Cheetos,” Briggs says.
Monitoring data serves as a foundation for state and local governments to correct water quality issues. Using data, chronic advisories have been corrected at 30 Michigan beaches, with another 20 in process.
In the Great Lakes region, the US and Canadian Governments assess the quality of beaches as “good”. In addition, there’s a trending result of “unchanging to improving”. From 2018 to 2019, the percentage of days that monitored Canadian Great Lakes beaches met Ontario E. coli standards for swimming averaged 90%. U.S. Great Lakes beaches monitored from 2018 to 2019 were open and safe for swimming 94% of the time. The status of monitored beaches was good in all of the lakes other than Lake Erie.
Monitoring results for Michigan’s public beaches—roughly 600 on the Great Lakes and 600 inland beaches—are posted on EGLE’s Beachguard website.
The most recent report on the overall condition of Michigan public beaches is also found on the EGLE website.