The Chicago Park District hosted a summit Wednesday for the environmental departments of the states surrounding the Great Lakes to discuss increased beach closings. Ann Kiolkowski, the marketing supervisor of the South Shore Cultural Center, described the annual meeting as one for informational sharing.
Among the 75 people who attended the conference were representatives from the federal government; the Canadian government; and the states of New York, Ohio, Minnesota, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Illinois; as well as Dennis Schornack, the U.S. Chairman of the International Joint Commission on the Great Lakes.
The attendees discussed the latest research in beach-water quality at the meeting. The various states that border the lakes updated each other on the status of their lakefronts and testing procedures.
The states are at different levels concerning their progress in testing for excessive bacteria growth. According to Kiolkowski, Chicago and Illinois are ahead of the curve.
"Testing is a priority for the city of Chicago. The communication in Chicago is excellent between the Chicago Park District, the Department of Environment, and the Illinois Department of Public Health," Kiolkowski said.
With safety in mind, the Chicago Park District is now looking for technology to achieve same-day testing to close affected beaches more quickly.
"There has been neglect in the Great Lakes, and we were doing proactive testing during the summer to ensure that the water remained safe," Kiolkowski said.
The Chicago Park District tested the lake seven days a week during the beach season, but now during the off- season they have suspended testing.
The Chicago Park District takes the water samples and then mails them for testing to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The results come back 20 to 24 hours later.
Should the results indicate any problems, the Chicago Park District issues a swimming ban for the suspect beach by alerting the Chicago beach managers and the media, and staking by a red flag on the beach to signal the beach's closing.
The increase in bacterial pollution along Lake Michigan's Chicago shore can be traced to pollution runoffs during heavy rains and sewage overflows into the lake. Additionally, lower lake levels foster bacterial growth.
The four states around Lake Michigan reported a record-breaking 899 beach closings and swimming bans in the 2002 season, according to a report issued Tuesday. Illinois had the highest number of beach closings, with 427.