Wisconsin beach monitoring and assessments

Baby on the Beach.
Clean beaches are places we all enjoy.

Every year thousands of people safely enjoy swimming in Wisconsin waters. The DNR and local health officials monitor water at public beaches on a regular basis to protect public health.

Research has linked swimming in polluted waters with adverse human health effects. People can be exposed to pathogens (disease–causing microorganisms) in recreational waters through ingestion, inhalation and body contact. Swimming–related illnesses caused by these pathogens include sore throats and diarrhea; respiratory, ear, eye and skin infections; and more serious illnesses like meningitis and hepatitis.

Monitoring data collected through the Beach Health Program, state parks monitoring and through local, state and federal partners provides the basis for assessment of beach conditions in relation to the state’s water quality standards. Wisconsin lists and delists beach sites based on assessment protocols outlined in its Wisconsin Assessment and Listing Methology (WisCALM) [PDF]. The DNR uses these procedures and water quality standards to determine whether a beach is impaired.

State and local monitoring

The DNR receives funds for a number of beach monitoring activities. The department provides annual updates on the states’ beach health, provides funding to local, state and federal partners monitoring or assessing beaches and manages the state’s Great Lakes Beach Program.

2012 marks the eleventh year for Wisconsin’s Beach Program as part of the federal BEACH (Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health) Act of 2000. The BEACH Act is an amendment to the Clean Water Act which requires all coastal states, including Great Lakes states, to develop programs for effective water quality monitoring and public notification at coastal recreational beaches. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has made grants available to participating states to develop and implement a statewide beach program. In addition to coastal beach monitoring, the DNR provides beach monitoring at all state parks with beaches. This monitoring program provides a critical supplement to local agency monitoring on the safety of swimming beaches in a given county.

County health officials are also charged with managing inland beaches. Many inland beaches are monitored through county health programs, and county health departments share data with the state and federal agencies through the Beach Health Site [exit DNR] hosted by the United States Geological Survey. This comprehensive site provides detailed results from monitoring work as well as beach closing information. Please visit the Beach Health Site before you take your next trip to one of our beautiful Wisconsin Beaches.

Other beach monitoring

The EPA provides funds to communities with Great Lakes beaches to monitor for elevated levels of Escherichia coli [exit DNR], or E.coli, a pathogen that can cause illness if ingested. The monitoring data helps local health officials determine when to close a beach due to unsafe conditions, and to notify the public so that beach visitors can make informed choices about swimming at the beach.

Last revised: Thursday February 20 2014