Murky Waters

When the Chicago Park District (CPD) issues a swimming ban or advisory there could be an array of possible reasons why; including seagull or wildlife waste, high bather load, and storm water from the region or unknown or even human waste, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

“Raw sewage is dumped into the Chicago River and, at times, Lake Michigan, when extreme precipitation events force combined sewer overflows,” stated Karen Hobbs, an environmentalist for the NRDC in Chicago.


Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune

“Compared to the lake in Minnesota I normally swim in, Lake Michigan definitely seems dirty, and that worries me,” stated Andrea Larsen, a senior Marketing major at Loyola.

She swims in the lake regularly and participated in a triathlon this summer.

“When I’m swimming in the lake, the water can look murky through my goggles. It concerns me that the water may not be clean, and could potentially get me sick if I get too much in my mouth.”


Andrea Larsen swimming in a triathlon in Lake Michigan this summer. 

Although Chicago beaches officially closed on September third, the water contamination level of Lake Michigan is still vital knowledge for Chicagoans.The lake provides us with drinking water and shapes our daily lives (on Lakeshore Campus especially.)

“Due to climate change, aging and failing infrastructure, lower lake levels, storm water runoff and it’s continuing pollution of the lake, and invasive species the (NRDC) has been working hard to preserve Lake Michigan,” says Hobbs.

Foster beach

Foster beach

So, how does the city of Chicago monitor the vital water source’s bacteria levels?

In 2011 the city was granted $250,000 from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and created The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

This initiative is made up of a task force of 11 federal agencies, which developed a plan that addresses five urgent areas of concern in our lake.

1. Cleaning up toxins

2. Combating invasive species

3. Promoting near shore health by protecting watersheds and polluted run-off

4. Restoring wetlands and other habitats

5. Working with partners on outreach.  

To implement all five strategies the Initiative set up a series of water buoys and weather stations along Chicago’s lake shore to monitor the bacteria level based on weather conditions.

It does this for all 26 miles of public parkland, which makes up 24 beaches owned and operated by the CPD.




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