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Calming Light

Calming Light
Manitowoc WI
Photo credit: Joann Will

Great Lakes beach program review – 2015 updated list and program changes

Wisconsin DNR sought comments on specific questions related to the coastal beach listings and general comments about changes to program implementation. Please review the materials explaining the changes and consider the following questions:

Wisconsin DNR reviews its beach list annually and uses public comments to inform any updates. These are the types of questions used during the review of the list:

  • Are there coastal beaches missing from the list?
  • Are there boat launches that are no longer active that should be omitted from the list?
  • Are there additional beach listings that need updated names (e.g. to reflect how the beach is known locally)? If so, please identify the beach and the suggested name change.
  • Are there any issues or concerns with the additions, removals or consolidated listings?

The official public comment period ended May 20, 2015; however, DNR will consider any additional comments for the next beach list update. Public comments should be sent by email to Donalea Dinsmore, Wisconsin’s beach program manager.

Beach list changes

As required by EPA’s Beach Act, each Wisconsin beach along the Lake Michigan and Lake Superior coastline must be identified and assigned to a tier or given a priority for monitoring for fecal indicator bacteria. A “beach” is defined as anywhere the public has recreational access to the water, whether or not the location is used for swimming. Boat launches and in some cases natural areas are included. To maintain eligibility for federal Beach Act grants, beach programs must provide an opportunity for public comment when significant changes to the beach list or the monitoring program occur. This year, several adjustments have been made to the beach list that reflect:

  • new beaches,
  • recommendations for removal from the list based on access or changes in how the location is managed,
  • consolidation of listings where there are no natural landmarks or access points separating stretches of coastline, and
  • adjustments in beach names to reflect how the beach is known locally or to provide a more descriptive listing.

The Wisconsin list identifies known “beaches” that are covered by the Beach Act, their location, type of use, monitoring status and priority. The existing (2014) beach list appears to omit some of the known boat launches. (Some boat launches may not be accessible with current lake levels.) DNR intends to incorporate any missing coastal boat launches that meet the definition of a beach. To facilitate review, several lists have been compiled:

Monitoring and notification system changes

With the 2014 revision of the Beach Act grant guidance [exit DNR], EPA recommended a risk-based evaluation and classification process that included review of the history of water quality exceedances along with potential pollution sources and usage when establishing the monitoring plan. The guidance suggested balancing limited monitoring resources toward areas with a greater chance of exceeding the advisory levels. It also suggested incorporating routine sanitary survey techniques to identify sources of bacterial contamination and to help prioritize beach management practices and potential restoration activities. The guidance also instructed programs to establish priorities for implementing same-day monitoring tools like nowcasting and qPCR tests to provide the public with more timely notifications of beach conditions. As such, the Beach Act grant incorporates flexibility in using the funds in a way that promotes improved water quality and enhances the public notification process.

This year’s Beach grant award of $217,000 will fund the beach health website, monitoring in 13 counties and limited operational and special needs funds. DNR has been notified to expect a reduction in funds in the current grant cycle and Beach Act funding is again slated for elimination in the next federal budget.

Beach monitoring strategy

Wisconsin’s beach monitoring strategy is incorporating the elements of the revised grant guidance with an eye toward sustainable operations and uncertain federal funding. Many beaches along the coasts already use sanitary surveys and nowcasts. Through Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) grants, a number of beaches have redesign plans and communities are investing in beach restoration projects. Wisconsin’s beach list identifies the beach priorities (tiers) and minimum systematic sampling frequencies to be implemented in 2015. Key sanitary survey [PDF exit DNR] measurements that will be collected at each beach funded by Beach Act funds include but are not limited to:

  • water clarity or turbidity;
  • water temperature;
  • bird counts;
  • wave height;
  • weather conditions (e.g. rain, cloud cover); and
  • algae presence (in water/on the beach).

In addition to funding for systematic sample collection, local beach managers will be given flexibility to use grant funds to develop or implement nowcasts, evaluate whether the same-day qPCR is appropriate for use on a beach-specific basis, target sampling during periods when water quality is expected to be at risk or for source identification. The listing also identifies locations that use nowcasts for more real-time notification of water quality conditions. Where nowcasts are the primary means for providing public notifications, the sampling data is used to calibrate the model and to check accuracy.

Beach signage

As a result of feedback on the effectiveness of beach signage, the program is redesigning signs to incorporate multi-lingual messages about the advisory levels and including a link to the beach health website that can be accessed via smartphone.

Contact information
For more information about the beach program operations or beach listings, please contact:
Donalea Dinsmore
Beach coordinator
Office of the Great Lakes
Last revised: Monday December 07 2015