Beach Contamination A Growing Problem For Illinois

Beach Contamination A Growing Problem For Illinois

Beach closures in Illinois skyrocketed again in 2002, according to a recent press release issued by the Federation. The two Illinois Lake Michigan counties had a combined total of 427 closings, up from 339 in 2001.

While that number is startling, it does reflect the impact of one positive change. Lake County, along the northern shore of Illinois, switched to using the U.S. EPA recommended test for E. coli bacteria. The county had been using an older test for fecal coliform bacteria until 2002. Use of the more restrictive test nearly doubled the number of closings, resulting in enhanced public health protection but indicating a serious contamination problem.

Illinois experienced two massive sewer overflows this year, and these seem to be the culprits responsible for approximately half of the closings. In mid-July, a power outage at the North Shore Sanitary District resulted in the discharge of thousands of gallons of raw, untreated sewage that appeared to impact the shoreline for a week after the spill. Then in late August, to deal with high water levels caused by stromwater run-off, rivers that usually flow away from Lake Michigan were reversed, allowing millions of gallons of combined sewage and stormwater into the lake and onto Chicago’s beaches.

Coinciding with the Federation’s press release, the Great Lakes Recreational Water Quality Association held its Beach Conference 2002 at Chicago’s historic South Shore Cultural Center on Lake Michigan in October. The conference brought together over 80 agency officials, beach managers, researchers, and representatives of non-governmental organizations from around the Great Lakes basin.

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.