The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) Beach “Nowcast” Program works with local public health departments along the state’s Great Lakes coast to improve the timeliness, accuracy, and cost-effectiveness of water quality monitoring at high-priority recreational beaches. The program creates and implements early-warning models that can predict the level of E. coli bacteria and the probability of exceeding water quality guidelines in real-time. Because routine monitoring requires 18-24 hours for samples to be cultured, the human health risks and economic impacts of E. coli in beach water are exacerbated by beaches being left open when bacteria levels are high and closed or posted when the levels are low. Statewide analyses suggest that large-scale adoption of beach nowcasts will significantly reduce the number of beach management errors and reduce the overall number of closures and swim advisories.
WDNR has been at the forefront of expanding beach nowcasting from a research endeavor to a management tool that is practical and cost-effective for local jurisdictions. Since 2009, WDNR has worked closely with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to maximize the utility and ease-of-use of EPA’s “Virtual Beach” modeling software and related online state and federal data systems – operationally testing them with local partners and providing critical design guidance. WDNR has expanded implementation by developing and distributing nowcast models to local jurisdictions, building local capacity through hands-on training and technical assistance, and coordinating the activities of numerous local, state, federal, private, and academic partners.
The proposed elimination of federal funding for beach monitoring in FY 2013 has heightened the importance of this program. WDNR is investigating and planning for the substitution of water-quality nowcasts for routine monitoring in situations where the science shows models to be effective management tools.
Results to Date:
In 2011, operating at two pilot beaches, water quality nowcasts reduced the number of missed advisories by 20 percent and incorrectly-posted advisories by 50 percent. As of June 2012, nowcasts are being used to make management decisions at seven high-priority beaches on Lake Michigan. WDNR and USGS have developed models for an additional 21 beaches on Lake Michigan and Lake Superior which are presently being run in test mode.
(608) 261-6416 or (608) 266-8931