Healthy Beaches

Keeping Your Family Safe

Beach Monitoring

During the summer months, The Watershed Center conducts E. coli testing at Grand Traverse area beaches. Testing will run June 13-September 5, 2018.

Beach test results will be available by noon on Thursdays and posted shortly thereafter on the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s BeachGuard website, as well as The Watershed Center’s Facebook page and the Grand Traverse County Health Department website. If test results show high bacteria levels, local Health Departments will post advisories at impacted beaches and the beaches will immediately be re-tested until results return to acceptable levels

Elevated bacteria levels, including E. coli, at beaches pose a threat to public health and cause illness, especially in young children and people with comprised immune systems. The presence of E.coli in surface water indicates fecal contamination is present at the beach, which includes a host of other harmful viruses and bacteria. Beachgoers are encouraged to take simple actions to reduce the risk of E. coli at beaches, such as not feeding ducks and other birds, disposing of diapers (including swim diapers) in trash cans, and having young children take frequent bathroom breaks.

The Watershed Center also reminds beachgoers to not swim near storm drains, especially during and immediately after rain events, as water from the storm drain may contain E. coli and other harmful pathogens from animal feces that are washed into the drains in a storm. The risk of elevated E. coli levels after a rain event decreases as sunlight breaks down the bacteria in open water.

Funding for beach monitoring comes from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency BEACH Act Funds, as well as the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Clean Michigan Initiative, the City of Traverse City, and Acme Township. Testing will be conducted at the following beaches:

Great Lakes and inland lake beaches to be tested in 2018 include: 

Grand Traverse County:

  • Bryant Park
  • Clinch Park
  • East Bay Park
  • Gilbert Beach
  • Interlochen State Park
  • Sayler Park
  • Senior Beach
  • Sunset Park
  • Taylor Beach
  • Traverse City State Park
  • Twin Lakes Park
  • Volleyball Beach
  • West End Beach

Benzie/Leelanau County:

  • Almira Township Park
  • Beulah Beach
  • Bellows Beach
  • Empire Beach
  • Frankfort Beach
  • Greilickville Harbor Park (Elmwood Park)
  • Neddows Beach
  • Northport Beach
  • South Bar Beach
  • Suttons Bay Marina Park Beach
  • Suttons Bay South Shore Park

Antrim County: The Health Department of Northwest Michigan is responsible for testing bay shore and inland lake beaches in Antrim County. The following beaches are being tested in 2018:

  • Barnes Park
  • Elk Rapids Veterans Memorial Beach
  • Elk Rapids North Beach
  • Richardi Park
  • Torch Lake Day Park
  • Wooden Shoe Park
  • Eastport
  • Arbutus Beach

Advisory System

Results for Traverse City beaches are posted on signs at beaches by the Grand Traverse County Health Department.  Results are also available at the Health Department’s website.  Here’s how the advisory system works:

  • Level 1: No tag — E. Coli levels meet MDEQ swimming standards for full body contact
  • Level 2: Yellow tag — E. Coli levels meet MDEQ standards for wading, fishing and boating. Contact above the waist is not advised
  • Level 3: Reg tag –– E. Coli levels exceed MDEQ standards; no body contact is advised
  • Level 4: Reg tag Health Alert — Excessive E. Coli levels and/or known gross contamination; avoid any kind of contact with beach waters

When any Level 2 or higher index is issued, the affected surface waters will be sampled and monitored until contamination levels return to acceptable levels.

Ordinances and Public Education

We work closely with the City of Traverse City, Elmwood Township and East Bay Township to adopt and enforce ordinances that prohibit feeding waterfowl and require pet owners to pick up their pet’s waste in public areas adjacent to waterways. The City of Traverse City adopted an ordinance in spring 2008 that prohibits feeding waterfowl.

Such ordinances will help minimize the flow of E. Coli into Grand Traverse Bay. A study conducted by the Watershed Center and the U.S. Geological Survey in 2001 found that bird droppings and stormwater runoff are likely sources of E. Coli in Grand Traverse Bay. We also work with local governments to install signs and pet waste bag dispensers along public parks, beaches and trails, complete with information cards.

In addition, we examine marina and street cleaning practices to determine if better management practices and technologies are available to decrease the amount of contaminants entering the runoff drains and subsequently Grand Traverse Bay.

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