Haserot Beach on July 4, 2021; Old Mission Peninsula | Jane Boursaw Photo
Haserot Beach on July 4, 2021; Old Mission Peninsula | Jane Boursaw Photo
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This week on August 2, a record level of E. Coli (Escherichia coli bacteria) was reported at Haserot Beach by The Watershed Center of Grand Traverse Bay, in cooperation with the Grand Traverse County Health Department.

During the summer months, the water at Haserot Beach is tested weekly, with numbers typically in the 0 to 100 range (colonies per 100/ml). On August 2, however, E. Coli levels at the beach were 1986, which is a Level 3 Index, “No Body Contact Advisory,” per the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).

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Bob Wilkinson, who handles Peninsula Township maintenance, was alerted by the Health Department to post signs at the beach; however, he was unavailable at the time, as he was in Kewadin performing sexton duties for a burial. The signs were posted later in the day.

I talked with Township Clerk Becky Chown, who said they are working on a backup plan for instances when signs are needed and Bob is unavailable. She said this was the first time this has occurred.

The water was tested again on August 3, at which time the E. Coli levels were down to 208, which put the beach at a Level 1 Index, meaning swimming and full body contact with the water was ok. Click the graphic below for a bigger view.

Haserot Beach E. Coli Levels on August 2 and August 3, 2023
Haserot Beach E. Coli Levels on August 2 and August 3, 2023

Why the Huge E. Coli Number at Haserot Beach?

So what caused the huge rise in the E. Coli number? Brent Wheat, Environmental Health Director at the Grand Traverse County Health Department, (who, by the way, is Brad Wheat’s son; Brad owns Craig’s Body Shop on Craig Road), said it could be related to several factors, including rain events creating runoff, strong winds blowing into the beach, or a flock of waterfowl who decided to take up residence on or near the beach.

He also noted that no sewage release was reported from Elk Rapids, across the bay.

“Obviously, it could be some type of sewage release, but this isn’t very common,” he noted in an email to Becky Chown. “Haserot has an interesting additional factor that could weigh in, which is the Old Mission drain. A lot of times, our exceedances are a combo of an overnight rain event that causes runoff of animal waste with the combination of wind blowing in.”

The Old Mission drainage system, which was installed after severe flooding plagued the village in 2018, flows out on the south end of Haserot Beach. However, Brent notes that since the water levels have dropped, typically the only time water flows out of it is following heavy rain events or during spring snowmelt.

Baby geese at Haserot Beach | Jane Boursaw Photo
Baby geese at Haserot Beach | Jane Boursaw Photo

Who Does the E. Coli Testing?

E. Coli testing at Haserot Beach is done on a weekly basis during the summer months by The Watershed Center of Grand Traverse Bay, in cooperation with the Grand Traverse County Health Department.

Testing takes place on Wednesdays, with results posted by noon on Thursdays on the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s BeachGuard website, The Watershed Center’s Facebook page, the Grand Traverse County Health Department website, and the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department website and Facebook page.

Brent said that the weekly samples are collected from three locations at Haserot Beach: 1) by the old boat ramp; 2) in the middle; and 3) near the Old Mission drain. Those samples are then mixed in a single container, from which the sample is extracted and reported.

On the day the high-number sample was reported, he noted that several people were launching small boats by the old boat ramp, and there was a large group of gulls and geese in that area. “This stirred the water up, likely mobilizing the animal waste that had been washed in from recent rain showers,” he said.

According to The Watershed Center’s website, if test results show high bacteria levels, advisories will be posted at impacted beaches, and the beaches will immediately be re-tested until results return to acceptable levels.

The website also notes:

Elevated bacteria levels, including E. Coli, at beaches pose a threat to public health and cause illness, especially in young children and people with compromised immune systems. The presence of E. Coli in surface water indicates fecal contamination is present at the beach, which includes a host of other harmful viruses and bacteria. Beachgoers are encouraged to take simple actions to reduce the risk of E. Coli at beaches, such as not feeding ducks and other birds, disposing of diapers (including swim diapers) in trash cans, and having young children take frequent bathroom breaks.

The Watershed Center also reminds beachgoers to not swim near storm drains, especially during and immediately after rain events, as water from the storm drain may contain E. Coli and other harmful pathogens from animal feces that are washed into the drains in a storm. The risk of elevated E. Coli levels after a rain event decreases as sunlight breaks down the bacteria in open water.

Funding for beach monitoring comes from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency BEACH Act Funds, the City of Traverse City, Acme Township, and Village of Empire.

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A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So I started my own newspaper.

Because Old Mission Gazette is a "Reader Supported Newspaper" -- meaning it exists because of your financial support -- I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks our way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the OMP. In a time when local news is becoming a thing of the past, supporting an independent community newspaper is more important now than ever.

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