WTOL 11 Investigates: How clean is the water at Lake Erie beache - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

WTOL 11 Investigates: How clean is the water at Lake Erie beaches?

TOLEDO, OH (Toledo News Now) -

On June 24 Catawba Island State Park issued a contamination advisory for swimmers because the E-coli level was above the safe range. On June 26, a water quality advisory at the Maumee Bay State Park Island lake beach was issued because of bacteria.

In both cases, children, the elderly and those in ill health or weakened immune systems were advised not to swim. These advisories are not uncommon at Lake Erie beaches, and are often caused by animal or human waste.

"It suggests that there is a high level of bacteria and it's not really a pleasant thing but it's usually associated with fecal bacteria," said Pamela Struffolino, Research and Operations Facilitator at University of Toledo's Lake Erie Center.

Swimming in water with these elevated levels of bacteria can make you sick.

"Some of the symptoms you might encounter if you went swimming with a contamination advisory or high levels of bacteria are ear infections, eye infections, throat infections, gastrointestinal problems, possible skin rashes," said Struffolino.

Struffolino and the Lake Erie Center are on the front lines, testing water at northwest Ohio beaches Monday through Friday.

"For the Lake Erie beaches we have developed a predictive model that will let people know by 10 in the morning whether the beaches are ok to come out and go swimming in. The model has been right on the money this year," said Struffolino.  

The predictive model is used to allow a warning to be put out in a timely manner if needed, because results from the tests can take up to 24 hours.

So how often are advisories issued? 

Stuffolino says it depends on different variables including rainfall, wind direction, and the number of birds and geese, among other things. The water is ever changing, meaning the water today is not the same as tomorrow.

"It's a very dynamic system where it does change. Sometimes it can change several times within a day," said Struffolino.

There is some good news on the horizon for the water at Maumee Bay State Park.  Ryan Jackwood, a PhD. student at UT, says a project underway right now could mean cleaner water and ultimately fewer advisories.

"Several years ago we figured out that berger ditch was the most likely source of the bacteria to Maumee Bay State Park. So getting a wetland here could potentially mitigate that problem, was a high priority for us," said Jackwood.

The project will mean creating three wetland cells starting at a higher elevation and going down. This will allow the water to trickle down and eventually feed back into the ditch.

"So within those wetlands cells we've got stone, gravel, native plants, soil and that will effectively will remove some of the sediment as the bacteria is flowing through and act as basically a big filter," said Jackwood.

The project, along with another one going on upstream, is priced around $2 million and is expected to be complete sometime in August.

"We'll monitor it for several years and hopefully we'll get to see lower bacteria at the beaches, fewer advisories, and that can get us started on a path where maybe we can do this at different places along the Lake Erie watershed as well.  If it has a significant impact like we're hoping than it will impact the people that are trying to jump in the water, go boating. There will be less of a risk." Jackwood.

Before you head out to an Ohio beach this summer, check out http://www.ohionowcast.info and http://publicapps.odh.ohio.gov/BeachGuardPublic/Default.aspx for the latest information on beach advisories.

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Copyright 2014 Toledo News Now. All rights reserved.

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