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Funding for beach testing in jeopardy

A sign indicates good swimming conditions as visitor heads Lake View beach Beverly Shores Wednesday June 26 2012. Lake View

A sign indicates good swimming conditions as a visitor heads to Lake View beach in Beverly Shores Wednesday June 26, 2012. Lake View lead the list of region beaches with the best water quality in a report released by the National Resource Defence Council. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 7, 2013 6:02AM



Environmental advocates fear that funding to test beach water could run out, making it more difficult for swimmers to know what microscopic threats lurk.

Money to test for bacteria comes from the Beach Act of 2000, which is administered through the Environmental Protection Agency to state environmental programs like Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

By law, the federal government can provide up to $30 million a year, but Michelle Caldwell from IDEM said the program allocates an average of about $10 million.

According to the EPA website, Indiana received $194,000 for the program this year.

“[President Barack] Obama has proposed to eliminate that funding altogether,” said Jon Devine of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “That was saved last year because Congress didn’t back his proposal, but it’s back again this year.”

States use the money to test the water quality of the beaches and develop ways to advise the public of potential contaminants. How they advise the public, and at what level of contaminants are required before requiring action, are up to the states.

In Indiana, the funds provide for testing Lake Michigan shorelines and the BeachGuard online advisory system. If the level of pathogens present is above 235 colonies per 100 milliliters of water, the beach is required to either close or issue an advisory.

Caldwell said losing money to test the beaches would severely hamper the ability to inform swimmers of the water conditions. Current funding is scheduled through the 2014 beach season, but after that, the issue gets murky.

“Half of my participants probably wouldn’t be able to continue testing without the Beach Act funding,” Caldwell said. “If nothing else, it would definitely reduce how often the beaches can test.”

IDEM questions report

The Natural Resources Defense Council reviewed the results and processes to test beach water pollution and released a five-star rating last week, but IDEM officials advise Indiana swimmers not to consider the ratings too strongly.

“It may not be a comparison of apples to apples,” said Ahla Cuss, IDEM’s Northwest Region director. “There are different standards for different states.”

Each star represents a specific requirement. One is offered for beaches that are monitored more than once a week, one for posting closings and advisories online, and one for posting an advisory without requiring a retest.

IDEM’s advisory standard requires that either the beach issue a warning or close if a single test exceeds the safety standards. It’s up to the beach manager as to what action they take.

“We leave it up to them,” Caldwell said. “They know their beaches, and it’s an economic driver for the area.”

But some of the beaches that were ranked from Indiana did not receive a star for the retest requirement.

Also, some beaches didn’t qualify for the online advisory standards, although IDEM has a system listing all Lake Michigan beaches in the

BeachGuard website

.

Two stars are also based on the quality of water itself. One is granted if less than 5 percent of water samples exceed the maximum standard in 2012, and the other if they met the same standards for the past three years.

Marquette Park Beach received three stars, the best ranking in the state.

Rankings are available on the

NRDC website.



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