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Report: Water quality at region’s beaches shows improvement

A few families enjoy sJeorse Park Beach East Chicago Ind. Wednesday June 27 2012. A sign was posted 'Beach Closed'

A few families enjoy the sand at Jeorse Park Beach in East Chicago, Ind. Wednesday June 27, 2012. A sign was posted "Beach Closed" due to no lifeguards being on duty. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 30, 2013 7:43AM



Lake Michigan beaches in Indiana rank 25th out of 30 states for water quality, according to a report released Wednesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Marquette Park in Gary received three of five stars based on efforts to address the issue, the best of the state’s beaches to receive such a ranking.

The NRDC created the “Testing the Waters” report by looking at the rate and causes of beach closures, the frequency of water quality tests and levels of bacteria in water tests provided in 2012. In Indiana, the report covers 33 Lake Michigan beaches, noting 10 are monitored daily, 15 are monitored every three to five days, and eight at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore are monitored once a week.

About 10 percent of all tests taken at Indiana beaches contained bacteria levels higher than the federal safety standard of 235 colonies per 100 milliliters in 2012, down from 16 percent in 2011 and 13 percent in 2010.

Beaches in Lake County had the highest rates of tests that exceeded the federal threshold. About 70 percent of the water samples taken at Jeorse Park Beach 1 of East Chicago exceeded the daily federal standard, while the second beach was at 53 percent. About 31 percent of the samples at Buffington Harbor Beach exceed the threshold, while 27 percent at Hammond Marina East Beach and 17 percent at Whihala Beach West exceeded the threshold.

About 15 percent of the samples at Indiana Dunes State Park’s West Beach in Porter County were above the standard.

“One good thing we see in Indiana,” NRDC spokesman Jon Devine said, “is that whenever the sample exceeds the standards, they require either an advisory or closure of the beach. That’s a good public health measure to have.”

Devine said East Chicago is considering new methods to try to find ways to improve the water quality at Jeorse Park, and plans to increase monitoring for the 2013 season.

While testing can’t determine the source of contamination, the risk of contamination rises when sewer systems overflow after a heavy rainfall, according to Jennifer Birchfield, the Save the Dunes water program director.

“Each of these can contribute pathogens from human or animal waste,” Birchfield said, “in addition to many other pollutants, such as nutrients and sediment to our waterways.”

Part of the report also included a star ranking of some of the more popular beaches. Devine said each star is earned based on specific practices. Three stars are reserved for monitoring processes and public awareness, and two for the actual water quality.

Seven beaches in Indiana received star ratings, but only Marquette Park received three stars. Washington Park Beach, Mount Baldy Beach and Central Avenue Beach in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and Indiana Dunes State Park East Beach and West Beach each received two stars. Porter Beach received one star.

Indiana’s Department of Environmental Quality administers the state’s monitoring and notification program.

IDEM spokesman Dan Goldblatt said the study’s star ratings focuses on some beaches that aren’t frequently visited.

“IDEM is committed to making sure all Indiana beaches are safe and clean. We monitor beaches in Northwest Indiana in cooperation with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore park officials,” Goldblatt said. “Indiana’s beach quality continues to improve, and we look forward to residents and visitors of Indiana enjoying our beaches. The NRDC study did not look at some of Indiana’s most popular beaches, and instead focused on some of the least visited beaches in the state.”

Goldblatt said those considering a trip to an Indiana beach can consult the online monitoring system, BeachGuard, at https://extranet.idem.in.gov/beachguard/.



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