Heavy rains raise bacteria levels

Daily Mining Gazette/Kali Katerberg A beach on the Houghton waterfront shortly after thunderstorms on Friday.

HOUGHTON COUNTY — Swim safely this weekend and don’t drink the water, as more heavy rains bring higher bacteria counts.

The labor day weekend is a popular time for family outings and beach trips but swimmers should keep safety in mind.

The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPDHD) has wrapped up their seasonal beach monitoring activities. Meaning just because a beach isn’t closed doesn’t mean it’s contaminant free. The program runs a total of 12 weeks each summer testing 16 beaches weekly.

“We’re not really providing any updates based on laboratory reports but we wanted the public to understand that after heavy rains, there’s always the possibility of elevated bacteria levels at local beaches,” said WUPDHD Community Planning & Preparedness Manager Ray Sharp.

Based on the years of summer testing, heavy rains have consistently come with a likelihood of an elevated bacteria count at beaches, he said.

These contaminants typically come from naturally occurring fecal matter, often from birds, that is carried into bodies of water with other materials during erosion. Other sources include old septic systems or normal municipal sewer facilities that discharge when dealing with a large amount of water.

It is impossible to tell is a water source has a high bacteria count on sight alone but occasionally high levels of sediment in the water can be a secondary indicator of runoff, Sharp explained.

For those that do plan on swimming, not ingesting water is key.

Signs of illness from water with high bacteria counts are typically mild but may include nausea and diarrhea but will typically resolve themselves.