Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

State tracking beach, water pollution problems

By PAIGE LaBARGE
Capital News Service

LANSING— The success of Michigan depends on clean water and beaches, and state agencies are striving to prepare recreational areas for the upcoming summer.

Dan Wyant, director of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), said the agency works to solve pollution problems by using metrics, which measure the quality of recreational activities like swimming, using the beaches and boating.

“The metrics allow people to see what efforts we’re doing to improve these areas and keep people coming back,” Wyant said.

Wyant said Michigan sits in the middle of 20 percent of the world’s freshwater and those resources are fundamental to boosting its economy.

“By keeping water recreation locations clean, people will keep traveling to experience them,” Wyant said. “This is a creative and innovative way to help Michigan succeed in this economy.”

According to Wyant, the DEQ is using its measuring system to fix and prevent future pollution problems, like bacterial contamination.

Brad Wurfel, communications director at the DEQ, said major categories of pollutants in water include E. coli, long-time sediment accumulation, soil from eroding banks and trash.

“It really depends on what region, but the pollutants vary,” Wurfel said. “For example, Southwest Michigan has manufacturing pollution issues, which is different from what pollution issues affect the north.”

Shannon Briggs, toxicologist and coordinator for the beach monitoring program at the DEQ said she closely watches the quality of water and beaches in the Upper Peninsula since there are many visitors there.

“The U.P. is a great place for vacationing because it has clean beaches and water,” Briggs said. “People know the quality of its recreational areas, which is why they keep returning.”

According to Briggs, there are problems at beaches and state parks throughout the region, but the DEQ handles it through a monitoring procedure.

“The Michigan Beach Guard is a way to monitor the U.P. and keep people updated on closures in recreational areas,” Briggs said.

The Michigan Beach Guard is a website, http://www.deq.state.mi.us/beach/, with a map showing all the beaches throughout the state, said Briggs.

“People can click on the map and it will show closures and track the progression of pollutant clean-ups and weather,” Briggs said. “The health department also uses this website to post changes of pollutant levels, and people can monitor this to help decide where they should visit.”

According to Briggs, one recent problem occurred at Brimley State Park in Chippewa County on Lake Superior.

“We found results of E. coli on some beaches and in the water, so the health department worked quickly to clean up any contamination so we could avoid a long-term beach closure,” Briggs said.

Mike Norton, media relations director at the Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that Traverse City water and beaches are often affected by E. coli.

“Traverse City is not historically industrial, so we don’t face those types of pollution problems, but we do commonly face issues with E. coli in the water, which comes from ducks, swans and geese,” Norton said.

According to Norton, the contamination is caused by tourists feeding the birds, whose droppings in the water cause bacteria to spike.

“It usually only lasts 24 hours, but we immediately close the beaches and clean up what we can,” Norton said. “We are working to educate tourists who come to our city’s recreational areas about not feeding the animals and also ensure the cleanliness of our water and beaches so people keep returning. If news gets around that a beach is closed, people won’t travel to swim or boat, which can really affect business and the economy,” Norton said. “It is our job to advertise the high standards of our water and to keep it as clean as we can.”

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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