MICHIGAN – Ten Michigan beaches were closed over the July 4th holiday period due to high levels of bacteria found in the water. Seven of those beaches, including the one at Ross Lake in Beaverton and the Richfield Township Public Fishing site on Lake St. Helen, are still closed.

E. Coli is used by the State of Michigan as an indicator of water quality. According to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), when E. Coli is found in surface water it means that there has been fecal contamination. E. Coli may indicate that other diseases causing organisms are present. Ingestion or skin contact with the contaminate water can then result in diseases such as gastroenteritis (diarrhea), giardia, hepatitis, or cholera.

Local health departments test the water each week looking for E. Coli bacteria. EGLE has developed a water quality standard designed to “protect human health during work and play, and is the maximum amount of E. Coli that is allowable in surface waters of the state.” The standard is stricter in the summer to take into account swimmers who may become totally immersed in the water. When a summer sample (May 1 – Oct. 31) contains more than 300 organisms per 100 ml of water the health department can issue an advisory or closure. The standard  for partial contact (year round) is 1,000 per 100 ml.

Contamination sources are as varied as the landscape in Michigan. In rural settings similar to Gladwin County the contamination most likely emanates from livestock and septic systems. All types of animals produce potential contamination including wildlife and birds. The closures in many urban areas have been blamed on large flocks of migratory birds such as ducks and geese. Many geese no longer migrate if open water is available year round exacerbating the problem. 

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has an easy to use website called BeachGuard that provides up-to-date information collected by local health departments. According to the latest update, six beaches were still closed as of Tuesday, July 9. Beside the two previously mentioned they include: Reed Lake and Eagle Lake in Oakland County, and two beaches on Lake Gogebic in the Upper Peninsula. 

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