Four county beaches closed during the summer due to bacteria
Oakland County beaches were temporarily closed in 2011 than last year due to high levels of bacteria in the water, a reality that may have as much to do with the county’s budget as conditions this summer at the county’s more than 260 beaches.
When the Oakland County Health Division’s 2011 beach monitoring program ended on July 29, a total of four beaches on four lakes had been closed for a total of five days because of bacteria levels found in beach water samples.
The Health Division monitored 44 public beaches on 37 different lakes this year with the help of four summer college interns, beginning on June 6.
The beach monitoring program in Oakland County has been pared back in recent years due to a meager revenue stream for the overall county government. The program had previously hired a greater number of college interns to collect beach water samples for analysis at the county’s lab. In prior years, those interns visited well over 100 public and semi-public beaches.
The county’s 2010 beach monitoring program targeted 45 public beaches for potentially unsafe levels of bacteria in the water. Just 30 beaches were monitored in 2009, compared to the 120 targeted in 2007.
Although the 2010 monitoring program officially ended on July 31, E.V. Mercer City Beach on Walled Lake was tested through Aug. 18 due to persistent problems with Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria. Overall in 2010, 11 county beaches were closed for a total of 20 days.
In 2009, a total of three Oakland County beaches were closed for a total of 39 days, according to data from the county’s annual beach monitoring program.
A total of 16 Oakland County beaches were closed in 2008 for a total of 17 days. Beach monitoring in 2008 continued until the end of August, instead of ending on Aug. 1, as was the case in 2007.
In 2007, there were nine Oakland County beaches closed for a total of 27 days.
Beach monitoring resulted in 23 beach closures for a total of 22 days in 2006, when beaches were monitored from the beginning of June through the end of July.
Monitored beaches are to meet the one-day standard of 300 bacteria colonies per 100 milliliters of water and the 30-day geometric average standard of 130 colonies per 100 milliliters. If a beach does not meet these water quality standards, it will be closed until satisfactory samples are obtained.
The Health Division reported the following beach closing information for 2011:
• The Camp Oakland beach on Handsom Lake in Oxford was closed on July 26 with a bacteria colony count of 389. The beach was reopened the following day with a bacteria colony count of 86.
According to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) BeachGuard database on beach water quality monitoring, wildlife was the source of bacteria that prompted the closure of the Camp Oakland beach. The same beach was closed for four days in 2010 due to bacteria from an unknown source, according to information posted in the BeachGuard system.
• The Finnish Day Camp beach on Sun Lake in Wixom was closed on July 20 with a bacteria colony count of 402. The beach was reopened the next day with a bacteria count of 49.
The BeachGuard database states that stormwater runoff was the source of bacteria that forced the beach closure. The same beach was closed for two days in 2010 due to bacteria from an unknown source.
• The Independence Oaks County Park beach on Crooked Lake in Independence Township was closed on July 20 with a bacteria colony count of 351. The beach was reopened the next day with a bacteria count of 187.
According to the BeachGuard database, stormwater runoff was the source of bacteria leading to the beach closure. The beach was closed for one day in 2008 due to bacteria from an agricultural source, according to BeachGuard data.
• The Pontiac Lake Recreation Area beach on White Lake in Waterford Township was closed on July 20 with a bacteria colony count of 728 and a 30-day average count of 154. The beach was reopened the next day with a bacteria colony count of 110 and 30-day average count of 15.
The Pontiac Lake Recreation Area beach was also closed on July 6 with a bacteria colony count of 1,070. The beach was reopened the next day with a bacteria count of 14.
The beach’s July 21 closure was due to bacteria from stormwater runoff, according to the BeachGuard database. The July 6 closure was prompted by bacteria coming from another, unidentified source. The beach was closed for two days in 2010 because of bacteria from wildlife, according to BeachGuard data.
When monitoring beaches for potentially unsafe levels of bacteria, beach water samples are collected at about 1 foot below the surface in water that is 3- to 6-feet-deep. The water samples are then analyzed at a lab.
E. coli bacteria live in the digestive systems of people and other warm-blooded animals. Most strains of E. coli aren’t particularly dangerous, but can point to the presence of other disease-causing bacteria.
According to the DEQ, E. coli doesn’t survive long in water. Factors such as wind and wave action, as well as ultraviolet light from the sun help reduce the level of bacteria living in beach water. The time needed to reduce bacteria levels can be unpredictable, but it usually takes less than 48 hours, according to the DEQ.
There are a variety of sources that contribute bacteria and other pathogens to surface water resources.
Sources of bacterial contamination include combined sewer overflows (CSOs), which are releases of raw or inadequately treated sewage from systems designed to carry both sewage and stormwater to wastewater treatment plants. When the volume of the combined wastewater is greater than the treatment plant can handle, the excess untreated sewage and stormwater are discharged into nearby waterways.
Sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) are another potential source of bacteria. They are discharges of raw or inadequately treated sewage from systems designed to carry domestic sanitary sewage, but not stormwater. According to the DEQ, systems that contain cracks, obstructions, stormwater connections, or that are undersized with sewers and pumps too small to carry all the sewage may leak or overflow raw sewage from manholes, bypass pump stations, and treatment plants into surrounding waters, particularly during extreme hydrologic events.
Failing septic systems also are a source of the bacteria that can force a beach closure. They can cause leaching and/or runoff into the waterways, causing bacterial contamination.
Urban stormwater runoff from roads, roofs, construction sites, parking lots, and other impervious surfaces may contain fecal matter from pets and wildlife, representing a common source of the bacteria that sometimes fouls beaches. Excessive waterfowl near the beaches and animal waste runoff from farms and fields can work in tandem with stormwater runoff to contribute to elevated bacterial levels. Illicit connections of pipes containing sewage to storm sewers or surface waters are also a potential source of bacterial contamination.