Beach closures in Michigan become 'new norm' thanks to high bacteria levels

Heading into weekend nine beaches shutdown

SAINT CLAIR SHORES, Mich. (WXYZ) - Another weekend arrives with a number of beach closures causing issues for would-be travelers — E.coli levels too high for local health departments to allow swimming.

In Saint Clare Shores, the Memorial Park Beach has closed once again. It’s been closed for a total of 45 days since the beginning of June, in fact, it’d be easier to count the number of days it’s been open since then: 26.

“Kind of makes you wonder what keeps bringing the problems,” said Kandace Evans, a mother of two. “I know there’s others closed in the area, as well. It’s a little alarming.

Evans brings her kids to Veterans Park regularly. Thanks to the splash pad, she can get her kids out of the heat without worrying about the E.coli. That said, she admits she has to keep a close eye on her 4-year-old who likes to make a run for the beach.

“She’s tries it, but we have to stop her,” said Evans. “They can’t even dip their toes in. You can’t feel comfortable. It’s really frustrating, how do you tell a 4- and 5-year-old that they can’t go into the water?”

Macomb County has dealt with plenty of E.coli issues in the past several years. Beach closures are almost becoming the “new norm,” for those who used to utilize public beaches.

What scares Kristin McCleary-May is that not everyone is taking the cautions seriously.

“We were wondering because we were walking by and saw people swimming and we thought, ‘It’s closed!,” she said.

Two mothers were collecting their beach towels and toys when 7 Action News made it down to the Memorial Park Beach. Signs were posted but were sitting on the ground. The mothers said they were disgusted when they realized they had let their children swim in the beach before they realized what was wrong.

It’s not just Macomb County dealing with issues related to E.coli. In Oakland County, Newburgh Lake inside of Hines Park has been closed for 31 straight days. Similarly, Eagle Lake near Lakeland Estates has had E.coli warnings and a closure for 24 straight days.

The concerning part is that testing that’s made public by the Michigan DEQ lists the samples, but notes that the reason behind the high levels of bacteria as “unknown.”

Those who study water will regularly point to two key factors: sewage from humans being dumped into the water, and poop from wildlife. In the past, the influx of Canada geese has been blamed for high levels of E.coli in some parts of metro Detroit.

State Rep. Pete Lucido has publicly blamed lawmakers who’ve not forced sewage and storm drain lines to be separated. In occurrences of high volume rain, it’s been noted that water is treated and dumped down storm drains — Lucido contends that what some communities consider “treating,” isn’t healthy for the communities downriver that ultimately see the water, and treated sewage, make its way into their water table.

“They sprinkle Clorox on it and discharge it,” said Rep. Lucido. “Then they say they’ve treated it. It’s craziness, but you’ve got 14 of 24 beaches closed during the summer? Sounds like you treated it pretty good.”

This year Lucido introduced a bill earlier this year to force all municipalities to separate their sewage systems from stormwater systems by Dec. 31, 2022.

“Once these systems are separated we should not have any more sewage flowing into Lake St. Clair – or any other lake, river or stream in our state,” Lucido said. “This is a problem that has gone on for far too long. It’s time to do something about it.”

In the meantime, families like the Evans have to wait and hope for a clear day to take their kids into the water.

“It’d be nice,” said Evans. “A lot of fun for my kids, but we just can’t risk it right now.”

You can check out what beaches are shut down at any time by visiting the Beach Guard website.

Currently, the following beaches are shut down due to high bacterial levels (E.coli) in Michigan:

  • Torch Lake/Portage Canal/Lake Superior - Lake Linden Campground
  • Newburgh Lake - Newburgh and Sumac Pointes - Hines Park
  • Bobcat Lake - Bobcat
  • Copper Harbor - Lighthouse Overlook
  • Eagle Lake - Lakeland Estates
  • Lake St. Clair - St. Clair Shores Memorial Park Beach
  • Crooked Lake - Independence Oaks County Park
  • Upper Pettibone Lake - 657 Dunleavy
  • Temple Lake - Teeple Lake Recreation Area - Highland State Park
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