Chesterton Tribune

USGS expands SAFE beach program here

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The innovative water monitoring program known as Project S.A.F.E. that gives beach managers more up-to-date data to determine when to close beaches is continuing and expanding this year.

The U.S. Geological Survey has announced that a new collaborative effort is underway that expands Project SAFE (Swimming Advisory Forecast Estimate) beginning this year.

Dr. Richard Whitman, the regional project manager at the USGS’ Great Lakes Science Center, said the S.A.F.E. program helped the public understand the water conditions; the new effort will inform people what the swimming conditions are around the clock, displayed on a real-time basis online.

The project has been funded through the President’s Ocean Action Plan for $700,000 in fiscal year 2008 and is expected to increase to more than $1 million annually in each of the following four years. The effort will draw on the expertise of the USGS and other federal, state and local agencies.

Securing the funds was a major accomplishment given that the program was in competition with others nationwide, Whitman said.

Next week, Whitman said, officials from a variety of agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Purdue University, will begin the local collaborate effort when they gather at the new Portage beach and at the Ogden Dunes beaches. Scuba divers will also install monitoring devices for use in the program.

Whitman said the program will involve world-class research. “I’ve never seen anything quite like this before,” he said, describing next week’s gathering as a sort of a “science party.”

The USGS announcement about the beach monitoring program states that scientists will focus on improving water-quality forecasting by enhancing and expanding models that help beach managers decide if beach advisories or closures are necessary. They will continue work to identify processes that influence the occurrence and abundance of pathogens; identify and evaluate rapid methods of monitoring pathogens at beaches; and improve communication with beach managers.

“Beach monitoring has raised significant and complex questions. Local beach managers are looking to scientists with expertise in diverse fields to gain a better understanding of their beaches,” said Dr. Shannon Briggs, Toxicologist at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. “This effort will enhance our knowledge and improve communication between scientists and beach managers.”

To strengthen this partnership, the Beach Health Initiative Steering Committee was formed consisting of key partners that will provide input and guidance on research direction for the project. This committee will continue the communication that began at the joint 2005 EPA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, USGS and Great Lakes Beach Association Beach Health Research Needs Workshop, where beach managers provided input and feedback on the information and decision making tools they needed to assist them in protecting public health at their beaches.

Before Project S.A.F.E., beach managers relied on water testing data from the day before. Under the S.A.F.E. program, more up-to-date data is now available. The program has been in place at the beaches at Ogden Dunes, Wells Street, Marquette Park and Lake Street.

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Posted 5/27/2008