Bad beaches: Low water quality in Winnetka, Lake County

June 29, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Jennifer Stanton and Uriah Fracassi drove from Palatine to Winnetka's Elder Park Beach on Wednesday. But they're not allowed in the water due to high bacteria levels.

"It is nice because we get to enjoy the sun. It is kind of shocking because it is such a nice area, you would think that it wouldn't be an issue," Stanton said.

"I was looking forward to jumping in the water," Fracassi said.

Closing the water to swimmers is not shocking to the Natural Resources Defense Council, In the organization's nationwide beach pollution report, 61 percent of bacteria samples taken from Elder Park Beach last year exceeded state standards. At neighboring Centennial Dog Beach, the 49-percent of the bacteria samples exceeded state standards. Both Winnetka beaches were the highest of Illinois' 61 lakefront beaches. NRCD Report on Illinois Beaches

"The Great Lakes had the most frequently contaminated beach water-- 15% of beach water samples exceed the public health standards in 2010. That is almost twice the average increase we saw on the national level," Karen Hobbs, Natural Resources Defense Council, said.

Some beaches like Chicago's 57th street beach went down in the ranks thanks to an innovative park district program that uses border collies to harass the seagulls. But, the NRDC says the gulls and daily monitoring do not get the heart of the problem.

"Storm water is the No. 1 cause of beach water closures and contamination," Hobbs said.

NRDC said the best solution is green infrastructure like rubberized asphalt, green roofs, and park side planting.

"Green infrastructure captures rain where it falls, storing it or letting it filter into the ground naturally and keeps it from carrying pollution to the beach," Hobbs said.

The Winnetka Park District hired consultants to come up with the best options to deal with storm water.

"They are considering putting vault out at Sheridan Road to cleanse that water before reaching the beach," Lee Volpe, Winnetka Park District, said.

A sanitary line lies underneath a pier at the Winnetka beach-- and 60 percent of the suburb's storm water goes through that line.

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