CADILLAC — One of the Cadillac area’s cleanest beaches isn’t a beach at all.

City Dock in Cadillac has some of the least amount of e.coli bacteria of any of the places authorities test. You’re not really supposed to swim there, but people are known to do it anyway — so Wexford County Drain Commissioner Mike Solomon tests it for e. coli.

The Cadillac News used publicly available water-testing data submitted to and published by the state of Michigan to rank the cleanest beaches in the newspaper’s coverage area.

There were some complications.

You’ll only see Wexford County and Osceola County beaches in the rankings.

No test results for any beach in Missaukee County, for example, have been reported to the state and are not in the BeachGuard system (http://www.deq.state.mi.us/beach/). Therefore, you won’t see Lake Missaukee in the rankings.

That doesn’t mean it’s dirtier than the beaches we do rank; it just means that we don’t have the data to compare it to other beaches.

In fact, Missaukee’s lake association samples for e. coli periodically, but lake associations aren’t required to report to the state, so the data isn’t in BeachGuard. (A bacteria report posted to the association’s website that was based on samples taken in July of 2017 showed very low e. coli results in Lake Missaukee; if that is indeed the average amount for the lake, week after week, year after year, the lake would be among the cleanest in the coverage area).

The same “lack of data‘ problem is also true for Lake County; while BeachGuard does have water sampling data for some Lake County sites, those sites were designated as “not a beach.‘ The Cadillac News did not include them in our rankings.

Lake Missaukee is not unusual.

In fact, it’s rarer for inland lakes to be tested for e. coli.

“You’re going to find a lot of inland lakes that haven’t been sampled,‘ said Tom Reichard, environmental health director for District Health Department No. 10, which oversees most of the newspaper’s coverage area. Reichard pointed to a lack of state and federal program funding for inland lake beach testing.

Communities can, however, request grant funding from the state to test the waterways for e. coli, and that accounts for much of the data that’s reported to BeachGuard for inland lakes, he said.

But it’s a competitive program and funds are limited.

Just because a beach is in a county where some beaches are tested doesn’t mean that beach is tested; several Osceola County beaches were tested in 2004 but data hasn’t been submitted to BeachGuard since then.

“Sometimes with limited funding ... we need to prioritize which ones are high use or higher risk,‘ according to Shannon Briggs, a toxicologist with the Water Resources Division at the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

ABOUT BEACH CLEANLINESS AND E. COLI

For the sake of the rankings, we’re defining “clean‘ as “least amount of e. coli bacteria.‘

The test results don’t show whether there’s chemical contamination in the area’s swimming zones.

So, if you want to know whether you’ll be exposed to pesticides or herbicides or PFAS while swimming, this list can’t tell you that.

Hardly anybody can — routine testing for chemical contamination of beaches is simply not done.

“I’m not aware of any beach monitoring that looks for that,‘ Reichard said. You typically have to be around chemicals for a “fair amount‘ of time before problems arise, he noted. “It’s a continual dose that would be a concern.‘

The rankings also don’t reflect how much cyanobacteria is in local swimming zones. Cyanobacteria is responsible for blue-green algae, some of which can be toxic. Those tests are specialized and not routinely run, Reichard explained.

E. coli is the test most commonly run — when you see signs posted at beaches saying that the beach is closed, particularly after a storm, it’s likely because the e. coli count is too high.

In Michigan, for full-contact swimming (where you stick your head underwater), e. coli levels are supposed to regularly be below 130, according Briggs, the EGLE toxicologist. If it’s higher than 130 for five “sample events‘ within 30 days, swimming isn’t recommended.

“We’re looking for that chronic problem,‘ Briggs explained.

(The federal standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency is higher, at 230, according to Reichard). If e. coli sample results reach 300 on a single day, officials are supposed to close the beach.

The number refers to how much e. coli is in a 100mL water sample; low numbers mean less bacteria.

Every beach currently being tested in the Cadillac News coverage area has an average e. coli level well below Michigan’s recommended level of 130 or less, with the exception of Crawford Park on the Muskegon River in Osceola County, which, according to data accessed by the Cadillac News during the last week in July, was averaging a 195.2 result for the summer of 2019.

For most people, e. coli won’t do more than cause abdominal pain or diarrhea, but for people who have weaker immune systems, symptoms can be more sever and could include kidney damage.

E. coli bacteria are a fecal indicator, Briggs said. It belongs in human and animal guts. When it’s in the water, it’s a sign that poop, is too. (Some researchers think e. coli may grow in sand but waterfowl like geese also poop in sand, so the science on that isn’t settled).

Other safety and cleanliness factors to consider when deciding where to swim include water clarity. You want to swim where water is clear because dirty water can obscure physical hazards like rocks and logs or sharp or hard objects people have dumped in the water.

And speaking of waste — the amount of garbage left at a beach isn’t necessarily a sign that the water quality is bad, but there can be a correlation between litter and high e. coli levels, Reichard said.

ABOUT OUR METHODOLOGY

The Cadillac News ranked local beaches based on the average, or mean, e. coli at a given beach over a period of time.

For the beaches with the least amount of e. coli, our methodology may give the impression that there’s more e. coli than the test results showed. That’s because, for ease of calculation, we treated test results that showed “less than one‘ as if there was the whole number one.

To show trends over time, beaches were ranked from the first sample date (usually 2001) until the end of the summer season in 2017.

We also ranked beaches in 2018 and 2019 (as of the date we pulled the records, in late July).

Center Lake Park in Osceola County jumps on and off the rankings because no data was reported in 2018.

Some beaches or swimming areas aren’t included in the rankings because test results have never been uploaded to BeachGuard.

Beaches that were tested only in one or two years (usually 2004) were also removed from the rankings.

Another way to evaluated cleanliness would have been to count the number of closings. In Wexford County, only Manton’s Billings Lake and Mitchell State Park have ever been ordered closed due to e. coli during the summer swimming season according to BeachGuard data. Summer swimming season usually ends the first week of September.

RANKINGS

Pre-2018

1. Colfax Township Park, Lake Meauwataka, Wexford County, average e. coli result: 4.77

2. Center Lake Park, Center Lake, Osceola County, 5.62

3. Cadillac City Dock, Lake Cadillac, Wexford County, 7.22

4. Rose Lake County Park, Rose Lake, Osceola County, 17.80

5. Kenwood Park, Lake Cadillac, Wexford County, 18.41

6. City Park, Lake Cadillac, Wexford County, 26.92

7. Mitchell State Park, Lake Mitchell, Wexford County, 27.19

8. Sunrise Lake Park, Sunrise Lake, Osceola County, 29.78

9. Crittenden Park, Big Lake, Osceola County, 80.33

10. Crawford Park, Muskegon River, Osceola County, 96.32

11. Manton Park, Billings Lake, Wexford County, 109.99

2018

1. Colfax Township Park, Lake Meauwataka, Wexford County, 2.04

2. Crittenden Park, Big Lake, Osceola County, 3.87

3. Rose Lake County Park, Rose Lake, Osceola County, 7.01

4. Cadillac City Dock, Lake Cadillac, Wexford County, 8.47

5. Mitchell State Park, Lake Mitchell, Wexford County, 16.31

6. Kenwood Park, Lake Cadillac, Wexford County, 21.29

7. City Park, Lake Cadillac, Wexford County, 49.32

8. Crawford Park, Muskegon River, Osceola County, 68.12

9. Manton Park, Billings Lake, Wexford County, 84.61

2019

1. Rose Lake County Park, Rose Lake, Osceola County, 2.34

2. Colfax Township Park, Lake Meauwataka, Wexford County, 5.31

3. Cadillac City Dock, Lake Cadillac, Wexford County, 7.06

4. Center Lake Park, Center Lake, Rose Lake, Osceola County, 11.09

5. Kenwood Park, Lake Cadillac, Wexford County, 11.29

6. Crittenden Park, Big Lake, Rose Lake, Osceola County, 12.34

7. City Park, Lake Cadillac, Wexford County, 14.50

8. Mitchell State Park, Lake Mitchell, Wexford County, 18.16

9. Manton Park, Billings Lake, Wexford County, 57.39

10. Crawford Park, Muskegon River, Rose Lake, Osceola County, 195.22

Cadillac News