Grant to track E. coli on Arenac beaches winding down
ARENAC COUNTY — A two-year grant awarded to the Central Michigan District Health Department to track down the causes of E. coli outbreaks on three Arenac County beaches is nearing its end, with only the compilation of data left to be finished.
Michelle Patton, director of environmental health services at the health department, said the $229,975 grant was provided by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in early 2011. It has been used over the past two years to find out when and why E. coli outbreaks have occurred at White’s Beach, Singing Bridge Beach, and the Twining Road Beach.
“These three beaches have had high E. coli concentrations in historic samplings,” Patton said. “We wanted to find out why that was.”
The work has included compiling information about nearby septic systems, farm drains, and rain runoff. Any causes that were tracked down during the study were dealt with as well as possible, Patton said, largely through repairs to septic systems.
“We’re compiling all the information so we can give it to interested parties, so we’re in the final phase,” Patton said. “There are so many factors, like land use. Many things can affect the water quality each day.”
Once it has been compiled in the next few months, the information will be passed along to the relevant municipalities so they can determine a long-term solution going forward to reduce the number of these outbreaks, she said. Additionally, she believes the health department will be able to use the information to better determine when an outbreak has occurred so it can warn people away from swimming in the water for the duration.
“We can’t eliminate the problems entirely,” Patton said. “We have enough information to be able to let the public know when it is safe to go out and swim.”
Farm drains are a distinct issue for the Singing Bridge Beach, which is located near the intercounty Whitney Drain. As a result, the study results need to be presented to the townships and counties along the drain, as well as the Department of Natural Resources, which controls land along the drain.
Meanwhile, White’s Beach has seen a number of small residential lots develop along the beach, which Patton said is impacting water quality.
“Those three beaches have had high E. coli concentrations in historic (10-12 year) samplings,” Patton added. “If you have a heightened concentration of E. coli, you have the potential for illness if a person is swimming in the water.”
Swimming in the midst of an E. coli outbreak can lead to stomach problems and gastrointestinal illnesses, she said.