Fewer Beach Closings in Chicago This Summer

The summer of 2011 is ending with the lowest number of swimming bans at Chicago beaches in several years.

Health and parks officials said the decrease is caused in part by factors outside their control, such as long dry spells that separated this summer’s brief but torrential rains. But they also said some initiatives — including programs to keep bacteria-carrying gulls away from beaches and new efforts to educate beachgoers on how to keep the sand and water clean — are likely having an effect.

“We’re not surprised, although we’re happy to see that some of the things we’ve been doing have been working,” said Cathy Breitenbach, director of lakefront operations for the Chicago Park District. “We’d always like to see (the number of swim bans) come down even more, and we’re doing everything we can.”

The Park District issued 36 swim bans since its 24 beaches opened on Memorial Day weekend, the fewest bans in the last five years, a spokeswoman said. The Park District issued 41 swim bans last year.

The Lake County Health Department issued 83 swim bans this summer at the 12 beaches it monitors, down from 111 last year and 150 in 2008, said Mike Adam, the department’s senior biologist.

Lake County and Chicago use different water-quality standards in deciding when to issue a swim ban. Lake County officials issue a ban whenever test samples show that the amount of E. coli in the water is greater than 235 colonies per 100 milliliters of water.

In Chicago, that level triggers a swim advisory, which means swimming is allowed but children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems should use caution. A swim ban is issued when the reading hits 1,000 colonies.

Issues affecting Chicago’s beaches touch upon themes in several Roosevelt University courses, including this fall’s offerings of SUST 220 Water, and SUST 330 Biodiversity. To find out more about these or any of our courses, we encourage you to investigate our degree options, and our course listings. For more information, please visit our Sustainability Studies website, call 1-877-277-5978 (1-877-APPLY RU) or email applyRU@roosevelt.edu.

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