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Identifying and eliminating sources of recreational water quality degradation along an urban coast

May 1, 2018

Restoration of highly degraded urban coastal waters often requires large-scale, complex projects, but in the interim, smaller-scale efforts can provide immediate improvements to water quality conditions for visitor use. We examined short-term efforts to improve recreational water quality near the Grand Calumet River (GC) in the Laurentian Great Lakes. Identified as an Area of Concern (AOC) by the International Joint Commission, the GC has experienced years of industrial and municipal waste discharges, and as a result, coastal beaches have some of the highest rates of beach closings (>70%) in the United States. Project objectives were to identify sources of microbial contamination and to evaluate a short-term management solution to decrease beach closings: during 2015 (partial) and 2016 (season-long), canines were used to deter gull presence. Water samples were analyzed for Escherichia coli in 2015 and 2016, and fecal sources were evaluated using microbial source tracking markers (2015): human (Bacteroides HF183, Methanobrevibacter nifH), gull (Gull2), and dog (DogBact). Hydrometeorological conditions were simultaneously measured. Results indicated that human, gull, and canine fecal sources were present, with gulls being the dominant source. Escherichia coli densities were highly correlated with number of gulls present, Gull2 marker, and turbidity. Gull deterrence decreased E. coli and Gull2 marker detection during 2015, but numbers rebounded after program completion. The full-season program in 2016 resulted in lower E. coli densities and fewer beach closings. Large-scale restoration efforts are underway at this location, but short-term, small-scale projects can be useful for reducing beach closings and restoring ecosystem services.