MILWAUKEE (AP) - Cities and counties in Wisconsin are looking for ways to pay for water tests that could lead to beach closures after the federal government proposed eliminating the funding for the tests.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been spending about $10 million per year water testing to support a 2000 law that requires local officials to post notices of increased health risks when water samples show a certain level of pollution. Officials must close beaches when pollution becomes even greater.
Donalea Dinsmore, the Great Lakes funding and quality assurance coordinator for the state Department of Natural Resources, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Wisconsin usually gets about $225,000 from the EPA for water tests, but this year, it will get less than half of that. The money will go to high- and medium-priority beaches, which have more population and visitors, are closer to pollution sources and have higher historic contaminant levels.
That means only 84 of the state's 192 will receive federal funding this year, Dinsmore said.
Iron County, which monitors several low-priority beaches on Lake Superior, is one of the places that won't receive any federal funding.
"It wouldn't surprise me if our beach testing program ended," health officer Zona Wick said.
Racine County also has concerns about the future of its program, although it will test its two beaches and 10 others in neighboring cities this summer with money from Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Fund for Lake Michigan.
And in Milwaukee, Alderman Michael Murphy had $40,000 for the program included in the city's budget in the hope that tests would provide better data for it to use in planning.
"Without good science you can't make good decisions," Murphy said. "The city has an obligation to keep at least some of the funding available."
The city also is getting help from the Zilber School of Public Health at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The school is working with the city's health department to test water from three city beaches, not only for public health advisories but to determine why E. coli bacteria are showing up.
While the health department checks for E. coli, university researchers also test for other chemicals, particularly byproducts of such things as body washes or shampoos, to better understand why E. coli levels increase.
Paul Biedrzycki, director of disease control and environmental health for the health department, said water quality in Milwaukee has improved as a result of better storm-water management and public awareness, but the rate of improvement is slowing so more action within the city and with neighboring communities is needed.
"It's incumbent upon the community also to take interest in beach water quality," he said.
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