BATH TWP., Mich. — E. coli is short for Escherichia Coli and it's actually something all humans and warm-blooded wildlife already have in their systems.
“E. coli is a bacteria," said Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) Toxicologist Shannon Briggs. "It’s found in our guts.”
Briggs said E. coli is used in water monitoring as an indicator for fecal contamination.
“Sometimes these beaches have high E. coli’s and it causes beach closures and advisories," Briggs said. "That’s where I come in and offer different options for local health departments to see if there’s anything we can do to help them.”
The mid-Michigan Health Department began testing six lakes for the first time three weeks ago as part of their bathing beaches program. Director Liz Braddock says this program is to inform people what they're swimming in.
“People can make an informed decision if they are maybe at risk of illness or at risk of getting sick if they were to accidentally ingest the water that has E. coli,” Braddock said.
Out of the six, they started testing, Braddock said only one came back with high E. coli levels.
“In our first week of sampling we noted that the water quality at Park beach was concerning and that it was above total body count meaning for swimming in the lake,” said Braddock.
The township closed the beach after the second results exceeded the standard set by EGLE.
“In Michigan, we have our water quality standards for E. coli for swimming," Briggs said. "That number is 300 e. Coli present in a 100-milliliter water sample.”
The first sample in Park Lake showed 443.2. The second grew to 756.2. The third, which was taken earlier this week, dropped back down to 443.2.
“When we do the sampling we wade into waist-deep water and then we take three samples within close proximity,” Braddock said.
E. coli is almost always present in lakes, rivers, and streams. Briggs said this is because natural bodies of water aren't filtered.
“These are natural water bodies," Briggs said. "They have naturally occurring organisms in them and E. coli is one of those organisms that can be present.”
Drinking water has no traces of E. coli and when people ingest water that exceeds the water quality amount they can get sick.
“There were epidemiological studies done in the past that showed when 300 E. coli were present there was an increased incidence of illnesses reported by swimmers,” said Briggs.
Symptoms of E. coli include nausea, abdominal cramping, vomiting, and gastroenteritis. Briggs said most symptoms only last a few days, but to contact a doctor if they continue.
Briggs said EGLE helps health departments answer the questions they all ask when a body of water in their area has E. coli.
“Where is it coming from and how can we resolve that so our beaches stay clean?”
While the health department hasn't traced it back to the source, yet, evidence on the beach shows geese could be the main issue.
“Sometimes when you go to a beach and you’ll see goose droppings or things like that," Briggs said. "Well, when it rains, all of those goose droppings are going to get washed back into the water.”
Other causes of E. coli could be humans or a sewage leak somewhere underground that needs to be fixed.
“Sometimes things leak or break and we never knew that that happened until we monitor a beach and then we start finding something where the E. coli’s high,” said Briggs.
So, what could have caused the dramatic change from over 700 E. coli in Park Lake to 400 in only a week?
“It’s all going to be dependent on which way the wind is blowing sometimes, how much wind, how high are the waves, are the waves crashing onto the beach and dragging the sand back down in the water,” Briggs said.
How do you fix it? Briggs said if it's Geese you can use dogs.
“They have border collies patrolling the beach and that’s just because when a Border Collie is running across the beach, they like to bark and do things,” Briggs said.
The township could also choose to work with the Department of Natural Resources to request permission and permits for a goose roundup to relocate the birds.
Briggs said one main way to get rid of the geese is to stop feeding them.
“If you’re feeding the birds they’re going to want to be there because you’re feeding them," Briggs said. "So, if you don’t want your beach closed, you need to stop feeding the birds.”
Some beaches in Michigan have even had to move their swimming area to another part of the water.
“There have been some beach remediation projects across the state," Briggs said. "So, we’ve seen some long-term corrections that have made these beaches just awesome, excellent, no more problems.”
While these solutions have worked well on other beaches, Briggs said every situation is different.
“Every one of them is unique," Briggs said."They have different hydrological patterns, they have different geology, they have different sources that come in and come out.”
That doesn't mean the E. coli will never come back.
“We just have to take each one and look at the information that we have and make improvements as we go,” Briggs said.
Braddock said that's why they'll continue testing the water every week.
“We are going to continue to monitor the beach throughout the summer," Braddock said. "We will keep the posting for an advisory up at the beach until the levels fall.”
Updates on the Park Lake E. coli testing and other beach closures in the state are posted on Beach Guard, the Department of Environmental Qualities monitoring website.
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