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June 5, 2012

Public comment open on minor changes to beach monitoring

MADISON - Improvements at many of Wisconsin's Great Lakes beaches and a free smartphone application with the latest weather and water quality information are giving people more reasons to break out the beach towel and the sunscreen and head to the water's edge, state beach officials say.

"We're fortunate in Wisconsin to have a group of innovative partners who have taken advantage of federal grants to transform beaches and really make them places that you want to go and relax and enjoy," says Donalea Dinsmore, who leads the Department of Natural Resources program that administers federal grant money available for beach monitoring along Wisconsin's Great Lakes shore.

And, with the release last week by the Great Lakes Commission and partnering states of the free, smartphone app (exit DNR) for more than 1,800 Great Lakes beaches, it will be easier for beachgoers to find current conditions, she says.

"When you go to a beach you want to have fun and also make sure you have a safe and healthy experience," Dinsmore says. "The beach app will tell you about the conditions at the beach - what are bacteria levels in the water, what's the weather like, and if there are winds that could cause dangerous riptides."

People can still learn about current beach conditions by going to the Wisconsin Beach Health (exit DNR) website, and can sign up for an email or RSS feed of beach advisories by county on that website. Or they can find a link to the site by searching for "beaches" on the DNR website.

Wisconsin has monitored water quality on at least 110 Great Lakes beaches every summer since 2003 to reduce the public's risk of exposure to water-borne illnesses. Local governments assess water quality and the DNR provides funding through federal BEACH Act funds it receives for monitoring on Great Lakes beaches. DNR also contracts with the U.S. Geological Survey to provide online results at the Wisconsin Beach Health web site.

There has been a trend of improving water quality at Great Lakes beaches due to the steps communities and partners have taken to tackle pollution sources. Such work has been accelerated as a result of grants available through the Obama administration's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the funding approved by the U.S. Congress to carry out environmental restoration and protection efforts, Dinsmore says.

The grants have made it possible to identify and correct sources of bacterial contamination that in the past may have led to beach water advisories or beach closures, she says.

"Racine and Door counties have been leaders in transforming a number of beaches into real "go- to" spots," Dinsmore says, noting that Racine's North Beach, in fact, last week was named one of 51 Great American Beaches by the national newspaper USA Today. "Bradford Beach in Milwaukee and Ozaukee County beaches are also leading by example."

Work to reduce contaminant problems differs by beach but has included work such as removing jetties, changing the slope of the beach and adding stormwater basins or rain gardens. Fencing around new native plantings to help filter contaminants before they enter the water, creating new dunes complete with dune grass, and changing mowing practices to allow longer vegetation that is less attractive to seagulls and other birds are among the other measures taken to tackle contaminant sources.

More work will be done this year to identify and correct sources of bacterial contamination in a number of other communities, with much of the work done in partnership with University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Professor Greg Kleinheinz and Racine Public Health Department Laboratory Director Julie Kinzelman. The Bay-Lake Regional Planning Commission is beginning a project to address runoff that contains phosphorus, a nutrient that contributes to growth of Cladophora, the thick, green algae mats that have been washing ashore, she says.

Volunteers from the Alliance for the Great Lakes Adopt-a-Beach program have also been having an impact on improving beach conditions, Dinsmore says. "Keeping beaches clean and free of litter is an important part of controlling bacteria, and volunteers from the Alliance for the Great Lakes Adopt-a-Beach program helping out in these efforts," she says.

Public comment open on minor changes to beach monitoring

Monitoring water quality at the more than 100 Great Lakes beaches will continue this year with some minor changes to which beaches will have water quality tested and how often. Beaches are prioritized for monitoring, with testing frequency based on factors including accessibility, usage, extent of vegetation on the beach, and overall risk for contamination.

The changes are:

Low priority beaches may be based on several factors: accessibility, usage, extent of the vegetation on the beach, overall risk for contamination based on sanitary survey or monitoring history.

The federal Beach Act requires that people be given an opportunity to comment on the beach list. People can email or submit comments in writing by June 30, 2012. Direct email comments to Donalea Dinsmore or send them via U.S. mail to Donalea Dinsmore, Wisconsin DNR Office of the Great Lakes, PO Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707-7921.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Donalea Dinsmore - 608-266-1926

Last Revised: Tuesday, June 05, 2012

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