Thursday, January 14, 2010

Life's a Clean Beach

The sun is warm on my face and the sand soothes my feet. I set my blanket in a spot a few yards from the water’s edge, slip off my sandals, and I am ready to dip my toes into the lake, but as I approach, a green gooey mass stops me. Unless I am willing to wade through the thick algae bloom there will be no swimming for me.

Okay, so that scenario is months away. It’s frigid cold and the beach on Simmons Island where I usually swim is white with icy peaks preventing anyone, even Polar Plungers, from taking a dip. But an announcement on the website of the Alliance for the Great Lakes told me that now is the time to do something about the algae on Wisconsin beaches. Now, in January.

The Alliance is encouraging people to tell the Wisconsin DNR that you want our beaches to be considered “impaired waters”. Then they can tell the US-EPA so these beaches can included in a list of targeted for improvement under the Federal Clean Water Act. Okay, I can do that – the Alliance makes it easy by posting a direct link to the DNR on their website, although beyond just telling them, which beaches are polluted, I am not sure what they want me to do.
My local beaches at Simmons Island and Eichelman Park aren’t among the worse waters, but occasionally they do have an unpleasant algae buildup.

A few years ago, my husband and I visited the Lake Erie Islands and stayed in Port Clinton Ohio. The weather was beautiful, warm, and sunny and we thought we would go for a swim in the lake, but when we got to the beach, it was disgusting. A barrier of green gunk prevented us from going into the water, to say nothing of the foul odor. We went back and swam in the motel pool, but we were disappointed. Lake Erie, the shallowest of the Great Lakes, is particularly vulnerable to these algae blooms, technically eutrophication, but the scenario happens all over the Great Lakes.

I also learned that the EPA is making almost $10M in grants available to 37 eligible coastal and Great Lakes states to monitor beach water quality and notify the public of unsafe swimming conditions. The funds are made available under BEACH (Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health) Act of 2000. Again, I would be happy to help but I am not sure what I can do.

Keeping beaches clean and safe for swimming is a public health issue. It is also a good for recreation and tourism and just plain smart. So is dreaming about warm, summer days as a way to get through what is becoming a long winter. Tell me what I can do to make sure that life this summer will be a beach. A clean beach.

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