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Hennepin County Beaches Monitored For E. Coli

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - When temperatures climb and weekends approach, the beaches of Hennepin County draw swimmers of all ages.

But along with the crowds, come the obvious worries for young mothers like Autumn Gode.

"First and foremost, you don't want your kid to get sick if they want to go to the beach and swim on a warm day," Gode said.

Too often, outbreaks of waterborne bacteria have sickened swimmers and closed beaches across the state.

Since 2010, the Minnesota Department of Health confirmed two E. coli 0157 outbreaks, at a swimming beach in Bemidji and on Big Island of Lake Minnetonka. At least six swimmers became ill after ingesting the lake water.

"We test them for E. coli, which is an indicator pathogen to tell us if something more harmful to people is in the water," Hennepin County Supervising Environmentalist Amanda Buell said.

To make sure that Hennepin County beaches are safe for swimmers, health department staff take water samples from 31 separate beaches across the county.

Technician Rebecca Prestwood wades out and takes a good scoop, filling a water bottle. The container is tightly sealed and placed in a cooler to be sent to a testing laboratory.

"And 24 hours later we'll know if the beach is safe for use," Prestwood said.

Following heavy rains on the weekend of June 20, routine testing found high levels of bacteria in about half the lakes. The beaches were closed until follow-up testing two days later showed the dangerous levels had dissipated.

Monitoring is performed every Monday, beginning Memorial Day and continuing through Labor Day. If a problem is detected, the beaches are closed and not reopened until the water sample comes back clean.

Usually, the problem can be traced to pet and wildlife waste, carried into lakes following heavy rains.

"We'll see runoff from storm drains," Buell said. "Everything that's on the grass and yards runs off down through the systems into the lake."

To help determine if your lake is safe for swimming, Hennepin County has an easy to use map.


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