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Illinois beach water ranks among worst in nation, study finds

Rainbow Beach 79th Street lakefront is among worst city beaches according study released by National Resources Defense Council. | Keith

Rainbow Beach, 79th Street and the lakefront, is among the worst city beaches, according to a study released by the National Resources Defense Council. | Keith Hale~Sun-Times file

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The worst beaches in Illinois, based on the percentage of time bacteria exceeded state standards during 2010 monitoring:

1. Winnetka Elder Park Beach, 61 percent

2. Winnetka Centennial Dog Beach, 49 percent

North Point Marina North Beach , 49 percent

3. Northwestern University Beach, 36 percent

4. Evanston South Beach, 32 percent

5. South Shore Beach, 30 percent

6. Rainbow Beach, 24 percent

7. Calumet South Beach , 22 percent

8. Great Lakes Naval Nunn Beach, 22 percent

9. Montrose Beach, 21 percent

10. 31st Street Beach, 21 percent

Jackson Park Beach, 21 percent

Source: Natural Resources Defense Council

Updated: January 9, 2012 1:39PM

Illinois beaches along Lake Michigan have the sixth-worst water quality in the country, a study released Wednesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council found.

“Testing the Waters 2011” ranked the quality of Illinois’ beach water 26th out of 31 states sampled for quality along the Great Lakes and East and West coasts.

“The news is not good,” said Karen Hobbs, the group’s senior policy analyst .

Of a reported 61 coastal beaches and beach segments in Illinois, Cook County’s Winnetka Elder Park Beach and Winnetka Centennial Dog Beach were the most often contaminated in 2010, the report found. The worst city beaches include South Shore, Rainbow Beach, Jackson Park Beach (63rd Street Beach), Montrose Beach and 31st Street Beach.

Nationwide, the report found that beach closures and advisories across the country increased by 29 percent in 2010 compared to a year earlier.

The Great Lakes have the most frequently contaminated beach water, according to the report. Bacteria in the Great Lakes exceed public health standards almost twice as often as coastal beaches, according to the report.

Fifteen percent of the Great Lakes shorelines exceeded those standards in 2010, up 2 percent from the previous year. Only 4 to 8 percent of U.S. coastal states exceeded standards for bacteria.

Beach water can be contaminated by polluted runoff from land-based sources, stormwater and sewage overflow. In Illinois, a history of industrial waste dumping in Lake Michigan and aging infrastructure contributes heavily to the lake’s pollution, according to the council.

The polluted waters are riskiest to children and the elderly.

Swimmers should check water quality with the Chicago Park District before entering the lake and not to swim within 72 hours after heavy rainfall, Hobbs said.

But a park district spokeswoman said swimmers need not wait if the district deems the water safe.

“Comparing freshwater and ocean water is like comparing apples and oranges, but there’s a lot we’re trying to do to understand bacteria in the water,” said Cathy Breitenbach, director of lakefront operations for the Chicago Park District

She said the district supports efforts to alleviate contamination of city water. Those include green alleys, which, in addition to the use of porous pavement and green roofs, could improve stormwater management and decrease its flow into the lake.

Other methods include the use of border collies to deter seagulls along the shore. The seagulls are a source of harmful waste in the water, according to Breitenbach.

“I hope people are not [discouraged from swimming],” Breitenbach said. “Our beaches are actually pretty clean.”

Hobbs agreed that new technologies and methods aimed at controlling stormwater are the key.

“We understand the problem, and we know the solution,” Hobbs said. “Now is the time to act.”

Contributing: AP

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