Laketown Beach first stop of season for water testing

Allegan County Health Department looks for E. coli contamination.
Bridget Bleeker, public health technician with the Allegan County Health Department, shows a sample of water from Laketown Township Beach on Wednesday, May 29, 2024.

The first day of water quality testing at Lake Michigan began early at Laketown Township Beach on Wednesday, May 29, 2024, for Bridget Bleeker, public health technician with the Allegan County Health Department.

“We’ll get the hard one out of the way,” she laughed after climbing the dune to get to the water at about 9 in the morning. The windswept beach was empty except for the health department crew.

Once knee-deep in Lake Michigan, Bleeker scooped water into a container that she then sealed. She collected samples in three locations at the beach.

Bridget Bleeker, public health technician with the Allegan County Health Department, takes a sample of water from Laketown Township Beach on Wednesday, May 29, 2024.

Testing

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the county samples the water at three Lake Michigan sites – Laketown, Oval Beach in Saugatuck and Pier Cove in Ganges Township – and four inland lakes — Gun Lake Park Beach, Dumont Lake Park Beach, Swan Lake, and Littlejohn Lake Park Beach.

The testing is funded by two Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) grants.

The purpose of these tests is to monitor levels of E. coli to determine if using the waters for recreational purposes is safe for the public, according to Jackson Braunz, public information officer for the health department.

Some strains of E. coli bacteria can cause stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. The contamination can come from wildlife, rain or agricultural runoff, failing septic systems or directly from swimmers, according to Nicole Taubner, groundwater specialist with the health department.

The testing also checks for harmful algal blooms.

The water samples are tested and if they surpass certain limits, the health department issues an advisory and notifies the public, recommending no contact with the water until tests come back with lower levels.

Information on the tests is posted here.

Beach testing history

In the last 13 years, Laketown Beach has had advisories for high bacteria levels for a total of three days, according to records at the EGLE records.

The beach was closed July 8, 2021, due to high bacteria levels from storm water runoff. It was also closed July 19 and July 20, 2011, due to high bacteria levels from an unknown source.

Laketown Beach is at 6710 142nd Ave. The township has about 7.6 acres of property with about 200 feet of lakefront. Parking is limited. There is a portable restroom in the parking lot. No lifeguard. No dogs allowed. The beach is free and open from dawn until dusk.

The Laketown Township Parks and Recreation Commission is studying beach issues of parking and access including the replacement of the several hundred wooden steps to get to and from the lakefront.

Area beaches are generally safe but all swimming exposes people to waterborne illnesses, according to a health department press release.

Safe practices

The health department recommends that, if going in the water, consider practicing safe swimming and help prevent recreational water illnesses: 

  • Dispose of trash, animal waste, and boat waste properly
  • Use the restroom before swimming
  • Do not swim in water that smells foul or looks murky
  • Do not swim immediately after heavy rain when E. coli levels may be high
  • Do not swallow lake water
  • Vigorously towel off after swimming
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before eating
  • Shower as soon as possible when you return home

For more information on Allegan County Beach Monitoring, visit allegancounty.org/health or contact the health department at (269) 673-5415 or alleganeh@allegancounty.org. More information on E.coli in surface water and water quality standards can be found at Michigan.gov/ecoli