Park Point beaches are ‘superstars’Two Lake Superior beaches on Duluth’s Park Point have earned national “superstar” honors for the fewest problems with bacteria in the water, according to an annual report released Wednesday.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
Two Lake Superior beaches on Duluth’s Park Point have earned national “superstar” honors for the fewest problems with bacteria in the water, according to an annual report released Wednesday.
The Natural Resources Defense Council releases a report card each year on beach water quality based on a federally funded water-testing program.
The report gave a 5-star rating, the highest possible, to only 13 beaches out of 200 nationwide included in the rankings. Only three Great Lakes beaches made the superstar list with no bacteria advisories: Franklin Park / 13th Street South (the Tot Lot beach) and Lafayette Community Club beach in Duluth and the Bay City State Recreation Area in Michigan.
But the report also noted that Minnesota’s Lake Superior and Duluth harbor beaches had an uncommon number of advisories compared to other regions. When all posting periods for North Shore beaches were tallied,
12 percent were posted for advisories.
That unusually high number was caused by last June’s record rainfall and ensuing flood, which not only sent untreated sewage into Lake Superior but also washed torrents of storm water into the lake carrying contaminants like animal feces.
Cindy Hakala, beach program coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Health, said her offices posted every single beach after the flood, even if they didn’t test high for bacteria, just to be safe. That skewed the total numbers for the season.
“Last year did see more advisories than we’ve had historically. We can definitely blame the flood for a large number of those sample exceedances,” Hakala said. “Our history is that we are the tale of two extremes. … We have the superstar beaches on the Lake Superior side of Park Point and then beaches that have chronic advisories on the harbor side. Our job is to let people know the difference.”
On Wednesday, the Hearding Island waterfront on the harbor side of Park Point was listed as an advisory area, the only one in the region.
Nationally, this year’s report found that water quality at America’s beaches remained largely unchanged, with 7 percent of water samples nationwide violating public health standards in 2012, compared to 8 percent in 2011 and 2010 and 7 percent each year from 2006-09. Great Lakes beaches lagged behind the coasts in water quality with 10 percent of water samples exceeding standards (Ohio
21 percent, Wisconsin
14 percent and Minnesota 12 percent.)
The Natural Resources Defense Council says the biggest cause of beach closures is an outdated and dilapidated infrastructure system to keep sewage and contaminated storm water out of the lakes. The group called on state and federal governments to invest more in projects that will slow runoff and keep contaminants out of the environment.
The Minnesota Department of Health beach monitoring program is testing 40 beaches from Duluth to Grand Portage all summer, every Monday, to check bacteria levels. Eight of those beaches, the most popular waterfront areas in Duluth, will be tested twice each week.
If bacteria counts show up unusually high in a lab report the next day, an alert is issued on the program’s website, e-mail alerts are sent and a sign is posted at the beach, which is then immediately retested. Alerts also are sent out when the bacteria counts drop back below the safe level.
The problem is that high E. coli bacteria may be an indicator of other, unsafe bacteria that could make people sick if any water is swallowed. Anyone who comes in contact with the water is vulnerable.
In years past, alerts tended to increase after rain and wind events, when bacteria on shore washes into the lake or when it’s stirred up from the lake itself. Advisories often are posted for the Twin Ports.
Local experts say it’s best to avoid the water soon after any rain and avoid swimming in the harbor at any time.
The North Shore beach monitoring program started in 2003 and is funded through a $210,000 allocation from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. This year, the state Legislature also approved another $105,000 annually that will give the program some chance to battle back against bacteria. While the federal money can be used only to test water and notify the public, the state money, from the sales-tax-funded Clean Water Land and Legacy Fund, can be used to find out what’s causing the high bacteria levels and even try to close off the source.