Beach Monitoring To Go High-Tech Next Year

BY JOANNA PLUTA STAFF WRITER

Area beach-goers will know if the Lake Michigan water is safe for swimming before they dip their big toes in, thanks to a new Predictive Modeling System scheduled to be set up at Lake Forest's Forest Park Beach and Zion's Illinois State Park South Beach next summer.

The new technology will anticipate increases in E. coli and other unhealthy bacteria before any real data is collected. This stands in stark contrast to current daily water bacteria testing procedures, which take between 18 and 24 hours to report unhealthy levels of bacteria in lake water.

"I think this will put a lot of swimmers and visitors to the beach at ease, knowing that when they are in the water, they should be in the water, that it's clean," said state Sen. Susan Garrett, D-29th, of Lake Forest, who devoted much of her summer to issues related to the Lake Michigan beaches. "It's a lot better than waiting 24 hours to learn that when you were in the water with your kids the day before, it was full of bacteria."

With help from Garrett, the Lake County Health Department acquired a $60,000 grant from the U.S. EPA's Beach Act to purchase the Predictive Modeling Systems. The first of its kind of Lake County, the new system will serve as a model for bacteria testing procedures and beach safety policies that can be applied to all Lake County beaches in the future.

Lake County Health Department aquatic biologist Mark Pfister said unmanned probes will be set up in Lake Forest and Zion next spring. The probes will monitor rainfall, wind direction and speed, air temperature, humidity, sunlight, water level, wave height, acidity, water clarity, water temperature and the amount of salt dissolved in the lake. They will also monitor the bacteria levels twice daily, and look for correlations between the weather conditions being measured and trends in the bacteria level. "Once we create a model, we can get good bacteria readings almost immediately, and then keep people out of the water on days they should be out of the water, and let them into the water on days they should be in the water," Pfister said.

Separate models will have to be created for each beach, because wind, wave, sunlight and other weather conditions vary between locations. Garrett said she will work to secure the funding needed to institute Predictive Modeling systems at other beaches in Lake and Cook counties.

Lake Forest and Zion beaches were chosen for the Predictive Model, Pfister said, because they have the highest usage patterns of all the Lake County beaches.

Lake Forest Parks and Recreation Director Fred Jackson said the system will be a welcome addition to the local facility. "We've been trying to find a system to better detect the bacteria levels for a long time now," Fred Jackson said. "The system we have in place now is antiquated and not very useful."

From The Glencoe (Ill.) News, FYI

Toxic Form of Green Algae Linked to Urban Sprawl Visit Lake Erie Again

By TOM HENRY BLADE STAFF WRITER

It's thick as pea soup. And it's capable of killing you.

Microcystis, a toxic form of green algae linked to as many as 75 deaths in Brazil in 1996, is back again with a vengeance in Lake Erie. Once written off as a menace of the past, it has mysteriously reappeared in the lake this time of year almost every summer since 1995.

Last week, it started floating like a layer of green paint on portions of Lake Erie from Toledo to Cleveland. It's expected to hang around until mid to late September. It'll be especially visible when the sky is clear and bright sunlight causes millions of its tiny particles to bubble up through the water column and form mats on the lake's surface. Then, as temperatures cool and the autumn sky becomes gray, the stuff will fade away for at least another year, researchers said.

"It's uglier than I've ever seen it right now," Tom Bridgeman, a University of Toledo research assistant professor, remarked yesterday as he boated toward the middle of a swath in Maumee Bay.

More than anything, the green water on the lake and on waves washing ashore along the shoreline has confused people like Terry Kolton, who lives in the North Shores area of LaSalle, Mich., near where South Otter Creek empties into Lake Erie.

"It's like green paint or green watercolor or something," he said. "It looks real thick, like split-pea soup. I've never really seen anything like it."

Aesthetics aside, toxic algae inhibit the growth of microscopic plants and animals important to the food chain of walleye, yellow perch, and other sportfish vital to the region's tourist-based economy. "It's definitely something we don't want out there," said Dr. David Culver of Ohio State University, one of the lake's longtime algae researchers.

The immediate risk to the public is low. To get a lethal dose, someone would have to ingest a chunk of toxic algae about the size of a hockey puck. Less than that could result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and other feelings of sickness.

Toledo and many other modern water treatment plants that draw water from Lake Erie have carbon-activated filters to destroy any algae that might make it into their systems, Mr. Culver said.

Bob Stevenson, Toledo utilities director, said the city water plant has not detected signs of microcystis. The algae was not seen yesterday in the vicinity of the Toledo water system's intake crib a couple miles out in the lake. He said it is unlikely to be drawn through because intake pipes are 13 feet below the water surface. Algae forms as it rises to the surface.

The timing of Thursday's massive power outage could be a cruel irony, given that it resulted in millions of gallons of raw sewage being discharged into Lake Erie and its tributaries just as the algae was coming into bloom. Detroit and Cleveland had especially heavy discharges of raw sewage.

"It sure didn't help," Mr. Bridgeman said.

He said he saw clear water Friday near the Canadian side of Lake Erie. "We came back to the Ohio side and hit a band of [algae]. That's probably because the wind was blowing it toward the [Ohio] shoreline," he said.

From the Toledo Blade...