About Beach Advisories And Closings
Wisconsin Beach Health
In order to alert the public about potentially unhealthy water quality conditions at Great Lakes beaches, local health departments sometimes post swimming advisories. Depending on the severity of conditions, or if there are other safety concerns such as high waves, beaches may be closed.
In Wisconsin, cities and counties that receive federal funding for beach monitoring and notification under the BEACH Act are required to report their advisories and closures through the Wisconsin Beach Health database on the DNR website. You can find all current beach advisories and water quality data in the database or on the Beach Closings and Advisories Map.
Principal Reasons For Advisories And Closures
Notifications made through the Wisconsin Beach Health database include the principal reason reported for any swim advisory or closure. These reasons are described below.
- Chemical Discharge/Spill
- A discharge or spill of chemicals or oil has occurred, which could cause unhealthy water quality conditions. The closure is preemptive since lab results will not be immediately available.
- Dangerous Currents
- Dangerous currents are expected. This may include large waves and strong currents, including rip currents. Dangerous currents often form around structures or from the combination of high winds and high water levels. A Coastal Hazard Statement is often released by the National Weather Service.
- Elevated Bacteria
- Lab results indicate elevated levels of E. coli bacteria in nearshore water. Levels higher than recreational water quality standards or guidelines require either a swim advisory or a beach closure, depending on the levels found. Bacteria levels can fluctuate over several hours and since conventional lab analyses take 18-24 hours, results may not be reflective of present bacteria levels. At some locations, however, rapid lab tests are routinely conducted, with only a 2-4 hour lag. In Wisconsin, the city of Racine uses rapid testing at two beaches – North Beach and Zoo Beach.
- Nowcast Prediction
- The results of a predictive model, based on historical observations, indicate a high probability that E. coli levels exceed recreational water quality standards or guidelines. Nowcast predictions are based on a combination of factors correlated to water quality, such as rainfall, wave height, water clarity, nearby river discharge and lake currents. The advisory or closure is preemptive, since lab results will not be immediately available.
- The reason for the posted advisory or closure is not covered by any other listed category (e.g., closures due to construction or high water levels). In such cases, a narrative explanation is submitted but is not included in daily notification alerts. These are available after the close of the beach season on EPA's Beach Advisory and Closing On-line Notification (BEACON) system.
To remove an Advisory or Closure notification, laboratory or modeling results must indicate that bacteria levels are below the water quality standard. The notification may remain posted indicating a 'Policy' reason when sample or modeling results are unavailable for the subsequent day. A policy may also include actions for high concentrations of algae or turbidity in nearshore areas.
Turbidity is a measure of the amount of particles or sediment suspended in or dissolved in the water. High amounts of suspended or dissolved particles in the water can provide food and shelter for pathogens, so turbidity readings can be used as an indicator of potential pollution in a water body.
- An ongoing or recent rainfall event (for example, within the past 24 hours) may increase the likelihood of unhealthy water quality conditions due to urban storm water runoff, agricultural runoff and/or sewage discharges. The advisory or closure is preemptive since lab results will not be immediately available.
- Sewage Discharge/Spill
- A discharge or spill of untreated sewage has occurred, which could cause unhealthy water quality conditions. The closure is preemptive since lab results will not be immediately available.
When To Contact Local Health Departments
All Great Lakes beaches are part of the BEACH Act and monitoring results are reported on the DNR's Wisconsin Beach Health database. Inland beaches (those not listed as reporting on Wisconsin's beach list) are voluntarily reported on the DNR's Wisconsin Beach Health database at the discretion of local public health officials. Questions and concerns about the status of these beaches should be directed to the appropriate local health department.