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Beach testing, water sampling resume for fifth year on Saginaw Bay
August 26, 2020
Sampling of algae blooms and shoreline deposits of muck has resumed along Saginaw Bay to help better understand water quality issues and factors impacting the quality of beaches. The work was done under a revised work plan developed by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy's Surface Water Assessment Section to comply with directives and safety practices under COVID-19.
Teams in the Water Resources Division have collected samples in June and July with plans to do more testing in August and September to examine potential impacts of excess nutrients and harmful algal blooms on public beaches. This is the fifth year for regular shoreline condition testing that normally runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day at sites from Pinconning to Caseville and including groomed beaches and more natural shoreline areas.
The purpose of the sampling is to determine general conditions and water quality for several public beaches and shoreline areas on Saginaw Bay. It also provides supplemental information to determine the impacts of nutrients and harmful algal blooms (HABs) on aquatic life in the bay. EGLE also shares HABs monitoring results with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and county health departments who determine when public health advisories should be posted.
"This sampling will help us better understand nutrient dynamics of the Bay and current conditions, as well as help guide potential restoration and improvement projects for this highly valued resource," said Kelly Turek, an aquatic biologist in EGLE's Water Resources Division who leads the sampling effort.
Following safe practices and using social distancing, two staff collected water samples from 10 sites. They take photos from the same locations and directions to build a historical gallery of changes and other noteworthy conditions. Measurements are made of beach quality as well as beach and nearshore algae and muck. Staff also measure temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, specific conductance, blue green algae and chlorophyll from water that is roughly three feet deep.
Water samples are collected for nutrient and microcystin analyses and water clarity data are recorded. The water samples are analyzed at the EGLE Environmental Laboratory and the MDHHS Laboratory in Lansing.
Turek says it's early in the long-term process to draw any solid conclusions about what the testing has found. However, preliminary results have indicated:
- In the past three years, muck deposits have been relatively low and have not been at levels that would impact designated uses. However, anecdotal evidence suggests this may be due to the higher water levels relative to years when much more muck was reported as washing up on beaches.
- Muck deposits also do not appear to be a systemwide problem (at least under current conditions). Unfortunately, certain beaches are in areas where wind and currents naturally deposit debris. These areas see more muck on the shoreline simply because that is where debris would naturally deposit. Other areas remain relatively muck-free for the same reason.
- Macrophytes — or aquatic plants — make up a large portion of the muck observed on beaches and filamentous algae makes up a much smaller portion under current conditions.
- Algae blooms are common from late July to September, however, harmful algae blooms — or blooms where algal toxins are at or above appropriate guidelines — are rare.
To report suspicious-looking algae, call the Environmental Assistance Center at (800) 662-9278 or send an e-mail to AlgaeBloom@Michigan.gov. EGLE's Harmful Algal Blooms webpage offers answers to frequently asked questions, resources, reports and helpful links.
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