Duluth beaches targeted for bacteria reduction

Minnesota regulators are hoping to reduce possible human, wild animal and pet waste that spurs E. coli outbreaks.

Kayakers in the Duluth harbor
Five Duluth waterfront areas are being targeted for bacteria pollution reductions because E. coli levels regularly exceed clean water standards.
Contributed / Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

DULUTH — Five of the city’s most notorious hot spots for beach bacteria warnings are being targeted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for improvement.

The waterfront locations often test high for bacteria, namely E. coli, that could cause humans to become sick, especially after heavy rains wash pet and wild animal waste into the water and when heavy winds churn up bacteria in the system.

The five hotspots are Leif Erikson Park waterfront, the harbor side of Minnesota Point at 15th Street, the harbor side of Minnesota Point at 20th Street (Hearding Island), the harbor side of Minnesota Point at the Sky Harbor airport, and Boy Scout Landing on the St. Louis River estuary in Gary-New Duluth.

The Minnesota Department of Health, which monitors the water quality, has posted an average of 32 advisories each year at the five beaches when the areas are considered unsafe for swimming and other activities like paddling, fishing from shore and wading that could cause humans to ingest water and get sick.

The bacteria reductions needed to meet federal water-quality standards range from an estimated 4% at Leif Erikson Park, the only location actually on Lake Superior, to a whopping 84% reduction needed at 20th Street on Park Point.


Potential bacteria sources include stormwater runoff from city streets; wildlife and pet waste; possible leaks from sanitary sewer lines; inadequate bathroom facilities; illegal sump pump discharges; and more. Past studies tracing wildlife DNA found that geese were a common source of the E. coli found at waterfront areas where they frequent.

It’s the PCA’s first “Total Maximum Daily Load” report specifically for beaches in Minnesota and is part of the agency’s duties under the federal Clean Water Act. It determines the maximum amount of a pollutant a lake or river can accept while still meeting water-quality standards, and specifies the reductions needed among various sources of pollutants.

Runoff from the Duluth urban watershed can affect the beaches, and in some locations, such as Boy Scout Landing, polluted streams can contribute to beach impairments. Some E. coli may migrate via streams from areas far inland.

Recommended cleanup strategies include addressing discharge of untreated wastewater, stormwater management, land-use planning and ordinance development, education and outreach activities, and pet and wildlife waste management. Efforts have been underway for years to get pet owners to clean up their dogs' waste. And the city, Western Lake Superior Sanitary District, state and federal government have spent tens of millions of dollars trying to thwart overflows of untreated sewage when rainwater overwhelmed the system of lines running to the WLSSD treatment plant.

The public can comment on the Duluth beaches TMDL draft report through March 2. Submit comments to or request information from Lindsey Krumrie, 218-302-6605, MPCA, 525 Lake Ave. S., Suite 400, Duluth, MN, 55802.

A virtual public hearing on the beach report will be held Feb. 8 from 1-3 p.m. on Webex .

For more information, go to .

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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