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Water sampling to keep the public safe

Each week officials from the the Berrien County Health Department visit 15 different beaches along Lake Michigan to check the lake water quality.

They check the water for bacteria and E Coli levels according to Environmental Health Manager with the Berrien County Health Department 
Ken Priest. Due to animal and bird feces, trace amounts of E Coli are found in the samples regularly.

“We divide the beaches in three parts so it gives us a better breath of what’s happening. There’s what they call a geometric average and if it’s over 300 then we have to advise the beach owner that they should put up a advisory or close the beach to the public,” said Priest.

Each Monday or Tuesday Priest will take three samples per beach from six different beaches. The samples are then delivered to the Kalamazoo County Health Department where the numbers of E Coli bacteria are counted. The number must be less than 300 per 100 milliliter sample.

“The samples have been coming back like rain water in the single digits or even the teens so it’s been phenomenally good this year,” he said of recent samples.

The process of getting test results back takes about 18 hours.

“By the time we get the results back and sample again, it’s been about two or three days have passed so it’s actually different waters than what it was when we sampled when we had the problem, so that’s kind of the thing that’s unfair about our beach sampling program," Priest added.

Recently, the county received some grant money that will allow them to tap into a type of test that will allow for faster results.

In the coming months, the partnership between the Berrien County Health Department and the Kalamazoo County Health Department will be able to provide a type of "fast test" where test results can be done in a matter of hours opposed to the current method.

The new testing will also enable the Berrien County Health Department to test more often to ensure up-to-date water conditions.

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