State agency sets goal of all Great Lakes beaches open for swimming in 2014

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By Kathleen Loftus

Michigan officials blames high levels of E. coli and other types of suspected contamination for most beach closings.Photo: Mattosaurus. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

LANSING — The Department of Environmental Quality’s mission to guarantee clean and safe recreational water includes a  plan to make the public aware of problems, says Bill Creal, the chief of its water resources division.

The agency has five related goals: 1) enhance recreational waters, 2) ensure edible fish, 3) protect and restore aquatic ecosystems, 4) ensure safe drinking water and 5) protect public safety.

Each goal is being measured from excellent to poor.

Agency Director Dan Wyant said using metrics to point out problems will improve the department and the environment.

Wyant said Michigan is unique because it’s surrounded by 20 percent of the world’s freshwater, with more than 11,000 lakes and ponds and 36,000 miles of streams.

A poor economy harms the environment, Wyant said.

Wyant said the Snyder administration wants to advance environmental stewardship for a better economy, and Gov. Rick Snyder said it’s important to use measures of success to the public sees the efforts made.

The first goal set is to have safe water for people.

DEQ predicts that 100 percent of the Great Lakes and beaches will be open and safe for swimming by 2014.

Currently, almost 80 percent of monitored beaches are open.

The Department of Natural Resources blames high levels of E. coli and other types of suspected contamination for most beach closings.

In 2009, slightly more than 80 percent of recreational waters were safe enough to stay open from May to October, while almost 90 percent were open in 2007.

Another goal is having 100 percent of rivers and streams meet the water quality standards for swimming.

Today, only 57 percent are safe for swimming, according to the DEQ.

Because water testing and monitoring are expensive, not all waters are examined.

Creal said humans, raw sewage and combined overflow are the main causes of unsafe water.

Some areas are better than others.

Creal said mercury is a statewide problem, but parts of the southern Lower Peninsula struggle to meet standards for E. coli levels.

Creal said the Great Lakes Restorative initiative is spending about $20 million to make all beaches safe, but the department doesn’t know how to improve every beach.

“We do beach monitoring frequently, but just got into stream-watching. We’re astounded by where we stand. We’re aware of the problems, but need to figure out what’s causing it and how to change it,” he said.

Creal said the public had a lot of input in the metrics, or measurement of outcomes, and goals because DEQ invited public comment.

“We love hearing public comments on this document. We want to start dialog with people about what we represent and the activity we hope to have with Michigan water,” Creal said.

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