July 9, 2007

Wind, Sun Ward Off Bacteria at Beaches

PORTER, Ind. (AP) - Wind, a lack of rain and generous sunshine have combined to keep beaches on the southern shore of Lake Michigan bacteria-free and inviting to swimmers so far this summer.

Beach closings due to high E. coli levels have been virtually nonexistent, and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore officials have found little to worry about when they test the lake's water.

The National Lakeshore, which tests water samples on a weekly basis, has yet to find any samples from its beaches exceed 235 colonies of E. coli per 100 milliliters of water, the level considered unhealthy for swimming. In fact, most samples this year have tested in the single digits or teens.

"It has been a very unusual summer," said Dr. Richard Whitman, the station chief and aquatic ecologist for the Lake Michigan Ecological Research Station. He noted the beaches are moving toward the "closure season" of August and September.

Beaches in LaPorte County show low levels of bacteria too, according to Scott Hicks, supervisory biologist with the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

"We've had a pretty dry period for the past two months," Hicks said. "I think it really is just a reflection on the amount of rain we've had."

Swimmers can get real-time updates on lake conditions in Miller Beach and Ogden Dunes through the U.S. Geological Survey Web site () which features the Lake Michigan Ecological Research Station's prediction system for swimming conditions, dubbed Project SAFE (Swimming Advisory Forecast Estimate).http://www.glsc.usgs.gov/ProjectSAFE.php

Whitman says the system relies on a variety of data, including current direction, wind speed and rainfall. It provides more immediate information than E.coli testing, which has a 24-hour lag time for results.

"We feel confident that this approach is an effective improvement in beach monitoring and that ultimately we will be able to predict poor swimming water quality before it happens," Whitman said.


Information from: The Times, http://www.thetimesonline.com