2018-07-12 / Outdoors

Leelanau beaches get clean bill of health

By Jen Murphy
of the Enterprise staff

So far this summer, water quality at Leelanau County beaches has been excellent.

The Benzie-Leelanau Health Department (BLDHD) samples 11 sites each Wednesday from June through Labor Day. Seven of the 11 are located in Leelanau County. The remaining four are sites in Benzie County.

After analyzing weekly samples, the health department assigns a Water Quality Index (WQI) to the each of the beach areas. As of last week’s sample data, seven Leelanau County beaches all received a clean bill of health: Level 1, the lowest WQI.

The tests measure for the presence of E. coli — a bacteria found in the gut systems of humans and animals. However, high levels of E. coli can mean trouble since the bacterium can carry pathogens capable of causing gastrointestinal disease in humans.

The Water Quality Index divides tests findings into four levels.

An E. coli rate of 0 to 300 parts per 100 milliliters is safe for full body contact and falls into Level 1. Between 300 and 1,000 parts per 100/ml activities such as wading, fishing, and boating are OK. However, no contact is advised above the waist.

No contact is advised for readings above 1,000 per 100/ml.

The highest test results were taken at South Bar Lake and Grielickville Harbor Park, both with a reading of 13 parts per 100mL, well below the 300 mark that would prompt a warning.

Samples taken on June 21 and 28 also drew samples well within the Level 1 quality index parameters.

“Leelanau County has pretty good high water quality,” said BLDHD environmental health director Tom Fountain.

But weather — especially rain or wind — can change readings.

“The tests are very weather-driven,” Fountain said. “Heavy rains basically clean the streets, and dog or duck feces in the sand or on the sidewalks ends up in the water.”

E. coli doesn’t like to live in sunshine, he added. And fortunately, we have had plenty of warm, sunny days so far this summer.

Fountain said he expects this week’s sample to be just as clean. “But that’s not a guarantee,” he said.

“We have been taking samples for over 20 years and we have a pretty good track record so far.”

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