Macomb County continues to monitor local beach quality

By: Kristyne E. Demske | C&G Newspapers | Published June 28, 2021

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MACOMB COUNTY — With 12 miles of shoreline along Lake St. Clair, including three beaches, as well as two inland lake beaches, Macomb County Health Department works throughout the summer to make sure the water is safe for swimmers.

Tom Barnes, environmental health division director for the Macomb County Health Department, said beach monitoring typically begins in April before the swim season gets underway. This year, testing for E. coli began April 19.

The five beaches sampled by the Macomb County Health Department are: Lake St. Clair Metropark Beach in Harrison Township, Walter & Mary Burke Park beach in New Baltimore, St. Clair Shores Veterans Memorial Park Beach in St. Clair Shores, and Baypoint Beach and Eastwood Beach on Stony Creek Lake in Stony Creek Metropark in Shelby Township. Each beach is sampled twice weekly through Sept. 30, and the results are posted on health.macombgov.org/Health-Programs-EnvironmentalHealth-WaterQuality-BeachConditions.

The health department will close a beach if the water sample bacteria level exceeds the Total Body Contact Standard of the Michigan Public Health Code. If the daily geometric mean of the most recent samples collected exceed the standard of 300 E. coli per 100 mL, the beach is closed. It is reopened once it drops below that threshold.

Barnes said, if the daily geometric mean of E. coli reaches 130 per 100 mL over the last 30 days, that calls for an advisory.

He said they try to get an idea of what the E. coli levels are at the beaches over a period of time, but temperature and weather affect the water quality.

“If there’s a closure, we go out the next day and sample again,” he said. “When it comes to rain, we know it flushes things off the beach, into the water.”

Because of that, he said, if there has been a heavy rain event, they will wait an additional day after a high-level test to see if the levels have come back down.

The good news for swimmers is, there’s no need to worry if the beach is open.

“The bacteria levels go up and down so quickly, so we know once those numbers go down, it’s safe to go in there,” he said.

Other factors affecting the health of the water include water flow, precipitation and wildlife.

“A lot of different factors come into it,” he said. “You wouldn’t expect either better or worse quality at the inland lakes versus Lake St. Clair. Good beach maintenance plays into it, too ... keeping some of the ducks or geese out of the way.”

The E. coli level has exceeded 300 E. coli per 100 mL four times at Veterans Memorial beach in St. Clair Shores, as of June 23. It has done so once so far in 2021 at Lake St. Clair Metropark beach.

Barnes said they also communicate with the entity running the beach so employees ought to know the current safety of the water, as well. In addition, a sign is posted at the park alerting users if a beach is closed.

“Our main goal is, really, we want to promote the safe and healthy use of our beaches,” Barnes said. “That’s why we monitor.”

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