Traverse City Record-Eagle

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March 5, 2014

GT Band funds water testing and safety gear

TRAVERSE CITY — A tribal grant will restore area health departments’ abilities to monitor 13 Lake Michigan beaches for bacterial contamination and stock those beaches with basic life-saving equipment.

The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians provided a $25,000 grant to health departments for Grand Traverse, Leelanau and Benzie counties. About $16,000 of that will replace a cut in state funding that threatened the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay’s beach monitoring for E. coli bacteria program.

“It’s all about the safety and welfare of our community and the children,” said Robert Kewaygoshkum, vice chairman of the Grand Traverse Band’s tribal council. “We want to make sure our beaches are safe.”

The Watershed Center and health departments tested the beaches the past 10 years, and this summer will again arrange to have beaches tested each Wednesday from Memorial Day through Labor Day, with results posted by Thursday.

“We are really happy the band came through with funding because we wouldn’t have been able to do any testing this summer without the band’s generous grant,” said Sarah U’Ren, the Watershed Center’s program director.

U’Ren said they did not request funding to test after heavy rains when bacteria contamination tends to be at its highest.

“We might do that with other funds if we can find some money,” she said.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality eliminated funds to test the water at most northern Michigan beaches after state lawmakers directed about two-thirds of the department’s beach monitoring budget to one southeast Michigan community to purchase new testing equipment.

Lawmakers called the diversion a one-time “pilot” program, so area officials are optimistic the DEQ will again have enough money next year for all state beaches.

“We would hope next year we would get our piece of the funding pie back,” U’Ren said.

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