Photo Credit: Katherine Berst
During the summer months, The Watershed Center conducts E. coli testing at Grand Traverse area beaches. Area beaches in Benzie, Grand Traverse, and Leelanau counties will be tested for harmful E.coli bacteria every Wednesday from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Beach test results will be available by noon on Thursdays and posted shortly thereafter on the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s BeachGuard website, The Watershed Center’s Facebook page, the Grand Traverse County Health Department website, and the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department website and Facebook page. If test results show high bacteria levels, local Health Departments will post advisories at impacted beaches and the beaches will immediately be re-tested until results return to acceptable levels
Elevated bacteria levels, including E. coli, at beaches pose a threat to public health and cause illness, especially in young children and people with comprised immune systems. The presence of E.coli in surface water indicates fecal contamination is present at the beach, which includes a host of other harmful viruses and bacteria. Beachgoers are encouraged to take simple actions to reduce the risk of E. coli at beaches such as not feeding ducks and other birds, disposing of diapers (including swim diapers) in trash cans, and having young children take frequent bathroom breaks.
The Watershed Center also reminds beachgoers to not swim near storm drains, especially during and immediately after rain events, as water from the storm drain may contain E. coli and other harmful pathogens from animal feces that are washed into the drains in a storm. The risk of elevated E. coli levels after a rain event decreases as sunlight breaks down the bacteria in open water.
Funding for beach monitoring comes from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency BEACH Act Funds, the City of Traverse City, Acme Township, and Village of Empire.
Results for beach testing are posted on signs at beaches by the health departments. Results are also available on the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s BeachGuard website, The Watershed Center’s Facebook page, the Grand Traverse County Health Department website, and the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department website and Facebook page.
Here’s how the advisory system works:
- Level 1: No tag — Colilevels meet EGLE swimming standards for full body contact
- Level 2: Yellow tag — Colilevels meet EGLE standards for wading, fishing and boating. Contact above the waist is not advised
- Level 3: Reg tag –– E. Colilevels exceed EGLE standards; no body contact is advised
- Level 4: Reg tag Health Alert — Excessive Colilevels and/or known gross contamination; avoid any kind of contact with beach waters
When any Level 2 or higher index is issued, the affected surface waters will be sampled and monitored until contamination levels return to acceptable levels.
Great Lakes and inland lake beaches tested in 2023
- Empire Beach
- Frankfort Beach
Grand Traverse Bay – West
- Bryant Park (Traverse City)
- Clinch Park (Traverse City)
- Greilickville Harbor Park
- Senior Beach (Traverse City)
- Sunset Park (Traverse City)
- Volleyball Beach (Traverse City)
- West End Beach (Traverse City)
- Suttons Bay Marina Park Beach
- Suttons Bay South Shore Beach
- Northport Bayfront Park Beach
Grand Traverse Bay – East
- East Bay Park (Traverse City)
- Traverse City State Park
- Acme Bayside Park
- Sayler Park (Acme)
- Haserot Park (Traverse City)
- South Bar Beach (South Bar Lake)
- Beulah Beach
Antrim County: The Health Department of Northwest Michigan is responsible for testing bay shore and inland lake beaches in Antrim County.
The following beaches are being tested in 2021:
- Barnes Park
- Elk Rapids Veterans Memorial Beach
- Elk Rapids North Beach
- Richardi Park (Bellaire)
- Torch Lake Day Park
- Wooden Shoe Park
- Arbutus Beach
Ordinances and Public Education
We worked closely with the City of Traverse City, Elmwood Township, and East Bay Township to adopt and enforce ordinances that prohibit feeding waterfowl and require pet owners to pick up their pet’s waste in public areas adjacent to waterways. The City of Traverse City adopted an ordinance in spring 2008 that prohibits feeding waterfowl.
Such ordinances help minimize the flow of E. Coli into Grand Traverse Bay. A study conducted by The Watershed Center and the U.S. Geological Survey in 2001 found that bird droppings and stormwater runoff are likely sources of E. Coli in Grand Traverse Bay. We also work with local governments to install signs and pet waste bag dispensers along public parks, beaches and trails, complete with information cards.
In addition, we examine marina and street cleaning practices to determine if better management practices and technologies are available to decrease the amount of contaminants entering the runoff drains and subsequently Grand Traverse Bay.