The number of water samples with excessive bacteria levels at Ohio beaches dropped in 2007 from the year before but were still high enough to rank Ohio second among all states, according to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Citing data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the report, Testing the Waters, A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches, indicates the number of closing and advisory days at ocean, bay, and Great Lakes beaches surpassed 20,000 for the third consecutive year.
In Ohio, the percent of samples exceeding the acceptable standard dropped last year to 17 percent from 22 percent in 2006, but increased from 14 percent in 2005.
Illinois was the highest with 23 percent.
Ohio reported monitoring 23 Great Lakes beaches in 2007. The NRDC includes only those beaches reported in each of the three years.
Ohio beaches with the highest percent exceedances last year were: Villa Angela State Park, 64 percent and Euclid State Park in Cuyahoga County, 59 percent; Camp Perry in Ottawa County, 48 percent; Edgewater State Park in Cuyahoga County, 29 percent; Maumee Bay State Park, 24 percent, Fairport Harbor in Lake County, 17 percent; Huntington Beach in Cuyahoga County, 15 percent; Lakeshore Park in Ashtabula County 14 percent; Lakeview Beach in Lorain County, 12 percent; Crane Creek in Lucas County, 11 percent; Crane Creek State Park in Cuyahoga County, 11 percent, and Port Clinton in Ottawa County, 11 percent.
All but two of the beaches were monitored four times a week. Edgewater State Park beach was monitored daily while the beach at Kelleys Island State Park was monitored once a week. In all cases, stormwater was cited as the cause of the elevated bacteria levels.
Ranked by county, Cuyahoga, with a 28 percent exceedance last year, was the highest followed by Ottawa, 16 percent; Lucas, 14 percent: Lake, 12 percent; Lorain, 8 percent, and Ashtabula, 6 percent.
Total advisory days increased 4 percent to 657 in 2007 from 629 days in 2006. In 2005, there were only 182.
Ohio uses the E. coli single-sample maximum of 235 colony forming units/100 milliliters for beach closing and advisory decisions.
Sandy Bihn, Western Lake Erie Waterkeeper, said regulations for reporting sewage overflows are deficient.
“The sewage overflows should be reported by date and volume on the Web for easy public access and should be reported to Ohio EPA, and in swimming months to the beach authority, here the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and local media,” she said. “It is very troubling that Oregon pumps from the sewer line in three locations to Otter Creek in heavy rains and sewage also discharges into Wolfe Creek and that these incidents are not reported. Moreover, there is no required plan to remedy the problem. People have to put in new septic systems or tie into sanitary sewers at great costs. Why does Oregon get away with keeping silent about putting raw sewage in creeks?”
Monitoring for harmful algal blooms isn’t being conducted in the state yet, but a plan to combine algal bloom and beachwater quality information online using the current beachwater quality system is under consideration, the report states, citing a discussion between the NRDC and personnel at the Ohio Department of Health.
Advisories due to monitoring results at Lake Erie beaches in Ohio are issued by local authorities based on recommendations by the state. Local jurisdictions have the authority to close beaches if they choose.
The NRDC report also criticizes standards used to monitor the nation’s beaches, noting many are more than 20 years old and rely on “outdated science and monitoring methods” that leave the public vulnerable to a variety of waterborne illnesses, including gastroenteritis, dysyntery, hepatitis, respiratory ailments, and other health problems.
“What this report means for families heading to the beach is they need to be careful and do a little homework,” said Nancy Stoner, director of NRDC’s clean water project. “Call your local public health authority and ask them if the beachwater is safe for swimming. If there is any doubt, or if the water smells bad or looks dirty, stay out of it.”