Health Department Monitors Water Quality at Local Beaches

The summer season is in full swing and the warm weather we are experiencing has made our local public swimming beaches a popular recreation choice. To be sure public bathing beaches are safe for swimming the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department is testing bathing beach water quality during the summer swimming season.

Is the water safe for swimming?
Most of the time, the water at beaches is safe for swimming. However, occasionally harmful bacteria may also be in the water. Swimming or playing in unsafe water could result in illness symptoms like diarrhea. To know if a swimming advisory has been posted at a public beach:
• Check for advisory signs or posted warnings near or on the beach
• Visit the Department of Environmental Quality’s Beach website

Where does pollution come from?
Beach water becomes contaminated when rainwater washes pollutants (like animal feces, fertilizer, pesticides, and trash) from the beach sand, yards, farms, and streets into the lake water. Pollutants can also come from sewage treatment plants and septic tanks that are not working properly. The pollutants contain microorganisms that can cause human illness. Microorganisms are tiny living creatures that are too small to see with your eyes, so you can’t tell if the water is clean by looking at it. Not all of them are bad, but some can make you sick. Some microorganisms that can be found in beach water include bacteria, viruses, worms and protozoa.

Bacteria can lead to infections, diarrhea, and stomach aches. Viruses can cause fever, colds, and intestinal infections. Some illnesses caused by worms have symptoms such as coughing, chest pain, fever, vomiting and restlessness. While protozoa can cause intestinal infections, stomach cramps and skin rashes.

According to Lynne Madison, the Health Department’s environmental health division director, “higher than normal E. coli numbers can be expected after heavy rainstorms, especially if large numbers of geese and gulls frequent a beach. Rainstorms wash bird droppings and other contaminants from the beach into the lake water, increasing the amount of E. coli in the water. Symptoms of exposure to E. coli include gastrointestinal problems such as nausea and diarrhea.”

Western U.P. Health Department is testing the water quality weekly at 17 public bathing beaches located in Gogebic, Ontonagon, Baraga, Houghton, and Keweenaw counties. Water quality parameters such as turbidity, temperature, and possible contamination sources are investigated at each beach. The water is tested for the indicator organism E. coli each week.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the presence of E. coli bacteria in large numbers indicates that fecal contamination has occurred and harmful pathogens may be present in the water. When testing finds unacceptable E. coli levels an advisory notice is posted at the beach by the beach owner or health department in order to protect public health until the contamination has cleared. The test results may be viewed on the MDEQ Beach website. Beaches being monitored this summer include:

Baraga County:

  • L’Anse Waterfront Park


Gogebic County:

  • Gogebic County Beach on Lake Gogebic
  • Lake Gogebic State Park
  • Sunday Lake Campground and Beach


Houghton County:

  • Agate Beach
  • Chassell Beach
  • Dollar Bay Beach
  • Hancock City Park Beach
  • Houghton City Beach
  • Lake Linden Park
  • McLain State Park
  • Twin Lakes State Park


Keweenaw County:

  • Eagle Harbor Beach


Ontonagon County:

  • Bergland Beach on Lake Gogebic
  • Ontonagon Township Park on Lake Superior
  • Ontonagon County Park on Lake Gogebic
  • Porcupine Mountain State Park