By Karen Cornelius
The next time swimmers jump into Lake Erie’s cooling waters, stop and look for a sign posted by the Erie County Health Department to make sure the day’s water quality is good and there are no advisories cautioning beachgoers not to dive into the waves.
Monitoring Erie County beaches for people’s well being and safety is the job of the Erie County Health Department. To explain this process, Craig Ward, director of Environmental Health, attended the Vermilion City Council meeting on Monday night, July 17. Ward stated the department samples all Erie County beaches four times per week from Memorial Day to Labor Day. He said samples are tested for the presence of E.coli bacteria which can make people sick. Of interest to the Vermilion area are the Main Street Beach, Vermilion East Lagoons Beach, Sherod Park Beach, Nokomis Park Beach, and Showse Park Beach.
Ward stated the current beach testing method is four days a week, Monday through Thursday. It’s a process where saamples are incubated for 18 hours with a reagent positive for E.coli which shows up blue under a black light. Since the results take 18 hours, Ward said there is a delay in notifications making them a day behind. As a result, Erie County Health has also been using predictive modeling at beaches which is an educated guess based on weather data and past history of each beach. He said the goal is to be about 80 percent correct and in past years they have reached as high as 78 percent. This year, however, they are at 52 percent at Main Street Beach and are working on that to improve accuracy. So, people could see signs which say “Water Quality Predictive Model Good” or “Predictive Model Advisory.”
Councilman Jim Forthofer asked what time they do their daily postings. Ward responded between 8-9:30 a.m. before there are too many beach guests. Councilwoman Barb Brady asked what exactly an advisory means and if there’s less bacteria further out in Lake Erie. Ward said an advisory indicates the bacteria level is elevated and the very young, old, and those with immune problems should not swim. He said walking in the water and touching it will not hurt people, but bacteria can get in if someone has an open cut or drinks lake water. He advised people should wash their hands after being in the lake. He said just because there is a posted warning, the decision to swim is with the individual. Out in the lake, there is less of an issue. Ward said it’s near open receiving streams where pollution is the greatest.
Councilman Fred Ostrander asked if they could cut the 18-hour delay because Lake Erie can change its condition in a couple of hours. Ward agreed there are major storm events that can change the water quality. He said that’s why to bridge the delay they do the predictive modeling rankings. As far as he knows, Erie County uses the fastest testing method. There are other processes but some are 24-hour and others are very costly.
Ward also brought with him applications for the WPCLF HSTS Replacement Program which are loans and grants for lower income residents to repair or replace their septic tanks or tie into a sewer system. Faulty septic tanks are another source of pollution. The applications are at the Mayor’s Office.
To find the beach results residents can go to the Erie County Health Department website:http://eriecohealthohio.org/environmentalhealth.htmi.