Chicago's Beaches Go High Tech

Parks & Recreation, August 2012 | Go to article overview

Chicago's Beaches Go High Tech


HOW WE DID IT

Water quality prediction system speeds beach information

Chicago is known for a lot of things: deep dish pizza, President Obama's hometown, Buckingham Fountain, blues music... and beaches? Most don't think of Chicago when they hear the word' 'beaches." Managed by the Chicago Park District, the 24 designated swim beaches along Chicago's lakefront are a popular summer destination for most Chicagoans and tourists coming into the city from the Friday before Memorial Day weekend until Labor Day each summer. The Chicago Park District has become an aggressive beach manager over the years and has implemented some beach management practices to ensure the beaches stay safe and clean for the many visitors each and every year.

"We continuously strive to integrate the latest technology in our efforts to manage and maintain the health of our beaches," says Michael P. Kelly, Chicago Park District general superintendent and CEO. "With more than 20 million patrons visiting our beaches each summer, we work to provide the most accurate information in a timely fashion, while also searching for ways to keep our beaches healthy for all to enjoy"

Thanks to grant funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the Chicago Park District is on the cutting edge of efforts to monitor and improve water quality at swimming beaches. The Chicago Park District tests for a bacteria called E. coli at all beaches at least five days per week. Although not harmful itself, E. coli is used as an indicator for human health risk. When levels of the bacteria are found to be higher than the federal water quality criteria, the Chicago Park District posts swim advisories at the affected beaches. Unfortunately the USEPA-approved method for water quality testing comes with a frustrating 18-hour delay for results to come back from the laboratory. This means that prior to 2012, swim advisories were posted based on day-old information. In 2012, Chicago Park District began using a new predictive modeling system that provides realtime information on water quality.

Years of research have shown that beach water quality is strongly correlated with water and weather patterns, such as rainfall, wave height, wind speed, and turbidity (clarity of the water). …

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