Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 13, 2012

Editorial: Ensure beach-testing funds


---- — Visitors likely assume the "pure" in the state's wildly popular "Pure Michigan" advertising campaign refers in part to the waters of the Great Lakes and our hundreds of inland lakes.

In the Grand Traverse area, ensuring that our beaches are clean and the water that laps the shore is pristine is a key part of the tourism equation.

So how is it we're facing major cuts in the already-paltry funding for beach monitoring? Who doesn't realize how critical it is to test lake waters and keep swimmers out when necessary? Washington.

Money for the monitoring program was "zeroed out" when Congress couldn't come up with a budget agreement and passed a "Continuing Resolution" which authorized — but didn't appropriate — funding for the program.

Local beach monitoring funds come from the BEACH Act, which provides Michigan with $274,000 annually. If the Environmental Protection Agency cuts the funds, the state will have to get by with $100,000 from the Clean Michigan Initiative, dedicated to inland beach testing, according to Shannon Briggs, a state Department of Environmental Quality toxicologist.

The state would see water monitoring sink from 400 Great Lakes and inland beaches to roughly 60 beaches in 2014. That's unacceptable.

People who spend big bucks to do the tourism thing here fully expect that when they hit the beach, the water won't make them sick. That means regular, reliable monitoring.

So the twice-weekly water testing managed by the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay at popular Great Lakes beaches in the region went well beyond good stewardship. This is business for the tourism industry and peace of mind for area residents.

This is critical public policy for our region that can't be left to Washington politicians. What Michigan needs is a funding source for monitoring programs that can be relied on year after year.

At just $274,000 to replace annual BEACH Act funding, it should be easy for the state to find the money. Appropriate sources could include Pure Michigan-inspired sales taxes (we're told they run into the millions), a couple pennies a day on car rentals, a few pennies a night on hotel and motel rooms, and more.

This isn't a luxury we can do without. There were eight lake advisories in the region last year, and as long as there are animals and rain, high e-coli counts can be expected in some places. Keeping swimmers away when necessary is a must; paying for monitoring is a lot less costly than scaring away beach-goers.

Finding a reliable funding source should be a priority for northern lawmakers.