Despite some recent beach closures, no one should be panicking over E. coli levels in Marquette.
City officials have been largely unable to identify sources of elevated E. coli levels that have forced two closures of city beaches in July.
Some theories were posited at a recent city commission meeting for why bacterial levels have been sightly elevated: sewer overflow, animal waste or stormwater runoff after heavy rains, lack of sand turnover or the unusually warm water temperatures in Lake Superior this summer.
Regardless of the source, it's clear the bacteria levels need watching. Twice each week, city staff has been sampling water at each city beach. If the three samples average more than 300 parts of E. coli per 100 ml of water, state regulations say the beach must be closed to swimming.
On July 20, South Beach was closed after an average of 552 parts E. coli; On July 27, North Beach closed after a 484 reading.
It's important to remember these readings are exceptions, not the rule. In weeks leading up to the high readings at North Beach, only one test showed an average in excess of 100 parts. Similar results hold true for South Beach.
The numbers are up over previous years, though, and that bears watching. Swimming in or ingesting bacteria-heavy water can potentially cause illnesses such as gastroenteritis, respiratory illness or infections - so we shouldn't take such warnings lightly.
Marquette isn't required by law to maintain E. coli monitoring on municipal beaches, but city officials are doing it because it's the right thing to do from a public health standpoint. Opting to put safety first, the city operates the only testing regime in Marquette County. Beyond that, Marquette is one of just eight communities statewide planning to participate in an upcoming rapid test pilot program. The new test will allow officials to get E. coli test results in as little as three hours.
And the testing doesn't cost the city an arm and a leg. Officials said testing only runs a bit above $5,000 per year - which is largely covered by a grant from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
Interested readers can check out the history of the city's beach testing online at www.deq.state.mi.us/beach to put the recent E. coli incidents in perspective.
Be aware of beach warnings and closures, but don't be afraid of the water.