Stories from a beach monitoring database

Finding a Michigan beach contamination story:
beach1

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality BeachGuard Beach Monitoring Database

Beach story ideas from this database:

Journalists plow through court and police records to find news stories. They can do the same with environmental data. In Michigan, contamination for a number of beaches is readily available. And if it isn’t, you can compile your own data. You count the number of crimes in your readership, why not count how often local beaches are a problem?

For instance, on a state or local basis, you can track:

  1. Which beaches were closed most often? Which beaches weren’t?
    -Do reporting to discover what is different about them (ie, is one close to a sewer drain?)
  2. Which beach was closed for the greatest number of days?
  3. Which state parks have particularly troublesome beaches?
  4. What is the trend over time? Are there more or less beaches closed this year as compared to other years?
  5. How severe is the contamination?
  6. Sanitary survey: How much trash/litter was collected from your county/region’s beaches this year? Pinpoint the problems and what officials are doing about it.
  7. Sanitary survey: What type of trash was collected most often?
  8. What was the primary reason for closure? Call a local official to see if they have done testing and tracking to pinpoint the contamination source.
  9. Health story: Once you’ve found out what’s causing the contamination, do a story on potential threats to human health.
  10. Non-point pollution sources—investigate how officials attempt to track sources with seemingly no traceable track.
  11. Export data from the database and check for patterns:
    i. Are all contaminated beaches near sewer systems?
    ii. Is your beach near a major city?
    iii. Is your beach near a possible pollution source?
    iv. Is there a geographical pattern to your contaminated beaches?

 How to get started:

1. Go to the Michigan DEQ’s Beach Monitoring webpage and click on “Beach Monitoring System” under the Online Services label.

You can also access the database directly at:  www.deq.state.mi.us/beach/.

2. On the main toolbar, click Search/Export.

3. Here you can search Michigan beaches with search engines to narrow your investigation:

a. If you have a beach or county in mind to investigate, skip straight to them by typing in their name.

-In this same section, you can also focus  on beaches from a specific lake (Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario, Superior, St. Clair).

-The database also allows you to search by beach type: Public, Private, or Not a Beach (this includes ponds, bays and some rivers).

b. Find which beaches exceeded E. coli bacteria levels by inputting an E. coli count greater than 300 per 100 mL of water. That’s the state standard for any Michigan water body.  Narrow the search even more by typing in a specific time period, such as during summer 2010.

c. Find which beaches had the greatest or least number of closures and advisories by setting a number and viewing all beaches that reached that number or had a lesser amount. Narrow the search by typing in a specific time period.

d. All of these searches can be done at the same time to sharpen your search.

beach2

4. Click on the drop down menu at the top right corner to export data regarding beach details, monitoring points, monitoring plans, advisories/closures and sampling results for a county’s beaches.

This information can be exported into Microsoft Excel and filtered for high or low bacteria counts, used to average numbers for water samples for a specific beach or all beaches, etc.

Investigate your beach:

A second way to search in this database is to use the county map:

  1. Go to the Michigan DEQ’s Beach Monitoring webpage and click on “Beach Monitoring System” under the Online Services label.

 

You can also access the database directly at:  www.deq.state.mi.us/beach/.

2. Select a county from the map.

beach3

3. Click on Public or Private Beaches to get a list of them.

a. Click on the drop down menu at the top right corner to export data regarding beach details, monitoring points, monitoring plans, advisories/closures and sampling results for a county’s beaches.

b. This information can be exported into Microsoft Excel and filtered for high or low bacteria counts, used to average numbers for water samples for a specific beach or all beaches, etc. See the descriptions of tabs below to learn what information is housed within each export option.

 

Click on Closures and Advisories to view ones that are current.

4. Click on a specific beach.

5. Click on the Beach Detail tab.

You can access basic information here, including county and township, the public or private status of a beach, EPA ID numbers and more.

Take note of the Beach Location section.

Latitude and longitude are given. To plot a single beach, click on the View Map link to access a GoogleMap satellite view of the beach. Click “Save to…” and save the point in My Maps. You can link or insert the GoogleMap into your blog post from there. Here’s a guide to GoogleMaps.

If you have multiple beaches to plot, you can export the latitude and longitude points by clicking the drop down menu in the upper right hand corner after searching for beaches. See the related tip sheet to design your own GoogleMap.

beach4

 

6. Click on the Closures and Advisories tab.

You can view a history of beach closures, advisories and basic contamination information for multiple years here.

View the closures and advisories for the most current year.

Skim the list for possible story potential, such as the longest number of days a beach was closed, common sources of contamination listed (or if the source is always unknown), you can also look at multiple years to see if there is a common time when contamination or closure occurs, add up the number of days a beach was closed in the summer, etc.

beach5

7. Next, click on the Sampling Results tab.

Find answers to beach closures here. If you don’t want to calculate how often an entity conducts sampling, click on the Monitoring tab to access information about the sampling agency, how often they sample and the period in which they conduct sampling.

In the Sampling Results section, click on the Question Mark bubbles near the Result Value for an explanation of the results.

 

Types of samples:

Individual: a single water sample

 Daily mean: beaches are divided into representative sections of at least three or more. Samples are taken from each section and then a geometric mean is calculated.

30-day mean: during a 30-day period, at least five sampling events with three water samples each must be taken to calculate a geometric mean of the individual water samples.

For more information about calculating water sample results, see About Beach Monitoring in Michigan.

Sampling requirements:

Michigan state standards require that no Michigan water contain more than 300 E. coli bacteria per 100 mL of water. Once a 30-day mean is calculated, the water is not to contain more than 130 bacteria per mL of water.

beach6

8. Click on the Surveys tab.

You will find results of sanitary surveys conducted on the beach here.

Surveys vary depending on agency but contain information about water characteristics such as water temperature, wave height, wave velocity and wind speed in addition to trash and litter collection numbers, visible signs such as geese or number of people swimming or playing on the beach, other possible sources of contamination, etc.

These notes could lead to possible sources or angles to a story.
lastbeach

After the investigation, it can be helpful to reference compiled data on Michigan’s beaches. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality summarizes this information in its annual Beach Monitoring Report.

Couldn’t find your beach in this database? Pull your own samples.  

Learn how to take water samples and take them to a lab for analysis, as well as conduct sanitary surveys to identify possible pollution contributors. See the related tip sheet.