Grand Traverse Bay wasn't the only place in Michigan or the Great Lakes where beach warnings or closures rose last year, federal data shows. Compared to more recent results, though, that's ancient history.
An analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that Michigan beaches were closed or put under water-contact advisories 198 days in 2007, compared with 124 in 2006.
Elevated E. coli bacteria readings at four Grand Traverse Bay beaches last summer led to a series of swim advisories, prompted beach closings and raised public concern over the area's water quality.
That led to an all-out effort that brought together a host of agencies to closely monitor bacteria counts, give residents more timely and more nuanced water quality reports and crack down on potential sources of bacteria.
While no one can say with certainty that the crackdown has worked, the fact remains that there has not been a single warning or closure this year, despite plenty of hot and humid weather, plenty of visitors, a normal amount of rain and beaches packed with swimmers and boaters.
Whatever the reason -- or, more likely, combination of reasons -- the folks charged with getting the counts down and keeping the beaches open are happy.
Grand Traverse County Health Department environmental health director Thomas Buss said he thought a city ordinance enacted this year that bans the feeding of waterfowl within 100 feet of a beach or the Boardman River may be helping. He said he has noticed fewer ducks and geese along the river, which means less waterfowl feces in the river and, eventually, the bay.
Buss said overall awareness of the problem has increased.
So far this summer there has not been a single day when water quality slipped below level one, which means the water is safe for full body contact.
"We've been very fortunate so far," he said.
Perhaps. But it is also true that you can make your own luck by changing the odds.
The all-out effort to deal with the E. coli issue has been an outstanding example of agencies -- nearly all of which are supported by taxpayer money -- working toward a common goal. The county Health Department, the Watershed Center Grand Traverse, the Traverse City commission, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the Department of Natural Resources, city police and the county's water patrols are all a part of the solution. Something is working.
According to the federal numbers, Michigan was 20th nationally for the percentage of samples exceeding U.S. health standards in 2007. Beaches in Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin had the highest percentages.
As regional awareness of the problem and what to do about it rises, those numbers can only improve.