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Ohio, Michigan beaches to gain from EPA grant

WASHINGTON - Great Lakes and coastal states are getting $2 million from the Environmental Protection Agency to monitor water quality at beaches and notify the public when they find a problem.

A law signed by former President Clinton in October calls on states to adopt minimum standards for beach water quality, regularly test beaches for pathogens, and notify the public of unsafe conditions.

The $2 million will be split among applicants from the 30 coastal and Great Lakes states, including Ohio and Michigan.

“For the first time, we are making federal funds available to states specifically to help protect public health at the nation's beaches,” said EPA administrator Christie Whitman. “A third of all Americans visit our coasts every year. Consistent monitoring for bacterial contamination, along with prompt public notification of health hazards at our beaches, can help assure Americans safe enjoyment of our coastal waters.”

According to an EPA survey of 1,891 beaches, 24 percent had at least one advisory or closing last year. The leading reasons cited for water quality problems were elevated bacteria levels and storm water runoff.

Maumee Bay State Park beaches have had 186 posted advisories since 1988 warning children, the elderly, or those with medical conditions not to swim there. Park and state and local health officials have tried a variety of methods to determine the source of the contamination, but to no avail.

After two years without problems, the park's lakefront beach was posted 41 times last year, including the Labor Day holiday weekend.

State and local officials plan to double the amount of testing they perform this year. They are studying whether raw sewage discharges from Toledo's wastewater system, the Bayshore power plant in Harbor View, and a ditch off Wolf Creek may be contributing to the problem at the park.

Brad Wilson, Michigan program director of Clean Water Action, said the federal money will help with monitoring programs, but more needs to be done. He said more than 100 beaches along the Great Lakes do not regularly test bacteria levels.

“When you look at overall just the state of Michigan, let alone the Great Lakes states, $2 million is a drop in the bucket,” he said.

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