Is it safe to go in? That's up to swimmers

May 23, 2012 2:19:41 PM PDT
Just days before Chicago beaches officially open for the season, the Chicago Park District promises fewer swimming bans.

Calling their self-imposed rules from recent years "too restrictive," the Chicago Park District said it is ending swim bans based on E. coli counts. And for Great Lakes Board Company, that's good news.

"When the water is closed to swimming they're nervous to go out on boards," Ian Jacobson, Great Lakes Board Company, said.

Last year, beaches were closed 36 times because of water quality and 134 advisories were issued. Now, the district will use a new, $150,000 system and those test results will be posted at 16 of the 24 designated swim beaches. Then it's up to swimmers to decide for themselves whether to go into the lake.

"We are very excited about the new system of predicted modeling. It uses weather data that we collect from equipment on the lakefront to give us a prediction of the water quality in real time. So we'll be able to tell you what the water is like today instead of what the water is like yesterday when we last took a test," said Cathy Breitenbach, Chicago Park district. "We're no longer using a higher tier that was self-imposed because it was too restrictive and not very accurate."

"I think it's good for people to make up their own mind and their own decision and to take some responsibility as well," Margriet Vantuyll, runner, said.

"I think it's good to have your choice, to be informed and be able to make your own decision and know why you're doing whatever it is that you're doing," Steve Cho, runner, said.

Swim bans will not disappear completely; they will be issued in cases of sewage overflow, lightning or giant waves. The park district continues to use dogs to chase away seagulls and improve beach quality.

There are several known causes of high E. Coli bacteria counts in the lake water, which include high temperatures, heavy rainfall, waste from gulls or other wildlife, and swimmers themselves. The public can help reduce bacteria levels by not feeding birds, not littering, and putting small children in waterproof swim diapers.

A texting service is available that will communicate to beach goers the swim status of a beach by texting the name of your beach to (312) 715-SWIM. To get a list of swim status at all beaches, text the word 'beaches'. In addition, beach goers can also access information on swim status by calling the Chicago Park District Beach Hotline at 312-74-BEACH, checking www.chicagoparkdistrict.com


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