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So a lot for the old warning flag on a stick.

Confronting an almost unwinnable battle against E. coli as well as other bacterias on public beaches, Chicago and some of its suburbs have taken the fight into the digital age.

From computer models which could predict ailments in which germs will thrive, to swimming alerts and beachfront closures sent out via Twitter, Facebook and text message, officials have adopted high-tech strategies to improved inform beachgoers of unhealthy conditions.

"That's how persons live now," stated Cathy Breitenbach, manager of the Chicago Park District's Office of Green Initiatives. "People have an expectation nowadays to get facts swiftly and in multiple ways. We're doing our ideal to meet that expectation."

As thousands across Chicago and the suburbs hit the seaside this Memorial Day weekend, health officials warn on the dangers lurking out of sight.

The well-liked beaches that line the lakefront in Chicago and communities towards the north have long been a melting pot for E. coli along with other harmful bacterias. Stormwater runoff, pet waste, bird droppings and urban trash contribute to microscopic mountains of filth that may lead to sore throats, stomachaches and all kinds of ailments.

The number of swimming bans has increased in recent years, officials say, likely because of much more frequent testing for bacterias than an actual drop-off in mineral water quality. Twice each day, researchers walk the city's 31 beaches collecting drinking water samples in little plastic tubes and sending them to some lab for analysis.

The trouble with that approach of water sampling is that outcomes aren't recognized right up until the subsequent day. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Geological Survey are pioneering study off Chicago's beaches, utilizing DNA analysis to test for germs, that will one day shorten the lab work to a couple of hours, allowing for nearly instantaneous mineral water monitoring, stated Richard Whitman, a USGS ecologist.

"The outcomes we've been living with are yesterday's numbers, and that is not usually excellent sufficient," Whitman explained. "We know drinking water disorders can transform pretty easily."

This month, Whitman along with scientists dumped red dye into the h2o a half-mile off 63rd Street Seashore, one of the most problematic waterfronts in the city, to track the speed and direction of lake currents in the hopes of improved understanding how germs builds up along the shoreline.

Thanks to EPA funding, the scientists have developed computer system models that can calculate weather data, wave height, wind direction, rainfall as well as other measurements to project when and in which bacterias counts will rise to unsafe levels.

This software, launched in Lake County in 2005, has revolutionized beach front analysis. Rather than having to wait 18 or 20 hours to issue a swimming alert to beachgoers, predictive modeling can anticipate unsafe swimming disorders.

"It's keeping people out in the normal water when they really should be, and not a day after the testing is done," stated Mike Adam, a senior biologist for Lake County, which oversees 15 public beaches along the lakefront and various dozen inland beaches. "E. coli amounts can change dramatically just involving morning and afternoon tests. Imagine how much they transform a day later."

Officials in Chicago and Evanston are now compiling information that may enable them to use predictive modeling in a year or two. It is usually a step toward the ultimate goal of being capable to predict substantial microbes levels days in advance, Whitman mentioned.

"Wouldn't it be wonderful to know on Friday what the mineral water problems is going to be like at your favorite seaside on Saturday or Sunday?" Whitman asked. "That's wherever we want being."

Till that day time arrives, the best defense of our beaches involves a mix of high- and low-tech solutions, Breitenbach claimed.

Last year the Chicago Park District debuted a specially crafted titanium rake with four-inch teeth capable of turning over deeper layers of sand, reducing bacteria by exposing it to UV light and oxygen. Believe of it as a sand Zamboni that refreshes Chicago's beaches every morning.

This spring, the Chicago Park District board unanimously passed an ordinance banning the feeding of birds and wildlife along city beaches. The ordinance is created to lower the number of gulls, particularly the most typical ring-billed gulls, that congregate and defecate on the sand, Breitenbach mentioned.

And once again this summer, the park district plans to station rescued border collies and their handlers on a few from the city's beaches to disrupt gulls once they try to land. The dogs have proven to be a basic, effective and well-known answer towards bird difficulty, Breitenbach explained, and is about as low-tech as it gets.

"They stay in the open areas and try and prevent birds from landing and loafing," Breitenbach claimed.

The time-honored practice of flying brightly colored flags around the beachfront, to warn swimmers of dangerous mineral water, has not yet gone the way from the typewriter. Flags will still fly this summer, officials explained, but park district two many years ago set out to modernize how it reached the public.

District officials set up a Facebook page and a Twitter account, @chicagopark. In addition towards the automated phone line (312-742-3224) that for years has offered recorded messages about seaside conditions, this spring the district plans to send swim-ban notifications via text message.

As scientists discover far more about the relationship between waterborne bacteria and public health, getting out the data as easily as possible becomes the up coming wonderful challenge, Breitenbach claimed.

"We've created this a commitment because we know it's a public service," she stated. "These beaches are meant for all to enjoy."

Chicago Tribune


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