Beach restoration in Wisconsin reduces pollution into Lake Michigan, helps economy

A view of Haines Beach prior to restoration. Wet, compacted sand, pictured here, can be a perfect environment for bacteria to breed. Photo courtesy of Door County Soil and Water Conservation District.

A view of Haines Beach prior to restoration. Wet, compacted sand, pictured here, can be a perfect environment for bacteria to breed. Photo courtesy of Door County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Project summary: Planting dune grasses, adding new sand, and reshaping six beaches around Wisconsin’s Door County have helped reduce polluted runoff into Lake Michigan.

Project name: Best Management Practices on Six Wisconsin Beaches

Location: Door County, Wis.

Description: Tourism is a huge part of the economy in Door County, Wis., accounting for more than $800 million in 2014 alone. In part, tourism is dependent on clean, reliable recreation: hunting, fishing, swimming, and wildlife watching. Several beaches around Door County were being closed several times in a season due to high levels of E. coli—a bacteria that can cause diarrhea and other ailments—which tended to spike after heavy rains. In an effort to reduce beach closures, prevent pollution in the lakes, and protect tourism dollars, six beaches were revitalized with Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding. Beach pollution was largely due to a combination of stormwater runoff and too many waterfowl utilizing the beach. Funding allowed Europe-Hotz Memorial Park, Haines Park Beach, Portage Park Beach, Lakeside Park Beach, Murphy Beach, and Sand Bay Beach to be restored and now contribute even more to the Door County economy, while also preventing runoff from polluting Lake Michigan.

Approximate cost of project: $702,300

Resource challenge addressed: Polluted runoff, closed beaches

A view of Haines Beach after restoration. New sand was delivered to cut down on the build-up of bacteria. Dune grasses, planted behind the protective green fencing, will help hold the sand in place while also slowing and absorbing runoff before it enters Lake Michigan. Photo courtesy of Door County Soil and Water District.

A view of Haines Beach after restoration. New sand was delivered to cut down on the build-up of bacteria. Dune grasses, planted behind the protective green fencing, will help hold the sand in place while also slowing and absorbing runoff before it enters Lake Michigan. Photo courtesy of Door County Soil and Water District.

Key partners (public and private): Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Door County Soil and Water Department, Door County Parks Department, Door County Highway Department, Rass Excavating & Materials, Town of Liberty Grove, Baudhuin Inc., Pinkert Law Firm, Town of Nasewaupee, Town of Sturgeon Bay, Town of Jacksonport, Miller Engineers and Scientists, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, and the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program.

Types of jobs created: Landscape architect, heavy equipment operators, excavators, general laborers

Results and accomplishments: On all six beaches topography was changed to slow the flow of stormwater, giving it more time to be absorbed into the ground and reducing the amount that reaches Lake Michigan. New coarser sand was delivered, too. This sand dries faster and allows more infiltration which in turn provides an environment where bacteria have a harder time surviving in it. Dune grasses planted along ridges and in swales served as a deterrent to waterfowl—they prefer open areas—while also increasing the ability of the sand to absorb stormwater. Together, these features have made the beaches a cleaner, more inviting place to visit. As a result, beach visits have increased. The health of Lake Michigan has been improved too thanks to reduced runoff.

Website: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/greatlakes/restore.html

 

Originally published: February 12, 2016

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