SWIM SAFETY: Monitoring Beach Water Quality

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Summer unofficially starts this weekend. And, there's something you'll want to know before you hit the beach the season.

The state started monitoring the water quality of area beaches this week so you can know if it’s safe to swim.

Reid Simmer says, "I'm taking a composite sample that's representative of the entire beach."

The University of Iowa student is a Beach Technician with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. He spends two days a week collecting water samples. He says, "14 hour day of driving and sampling."

The other days are in the lab testing for bacteria like e-coli and microcystin. Simmer says, "Which is a toxin produced by blue green algea."

He and two other technicians collect samples once a week late May through early September at 37 Iowa beaches. Simmer took samples from the water at Big Creek State Park in Polk City Monday morning.

DNR Water Quality Specialist Tom Wilton says, "This monitoring is designed to provide the information so people can make their own decisions about whether they want to enter the water at these monitored beaches."

You'll see signs posted if there is a high level of bacteria. Wilton says, "Everyone should have some awareness that when they go to a beach, it's a natural environment and bacteria are part of that environment."

Even though they take the samples every week, water quality changes day to day, hour by hour. It's important to use a little common sense before you swim. Wilton says, "If the water is very cloudy or murky looking with sediment, that might be an indication bacteria has come in to the beach area due to run off from the land."

You should also look for algea scums, which are bright blue and green. People with a compromised immune system are most at risk. But, anyone could get an upset stomach or skin rash. Wilton says, "Ultimately it's up to the individual to make that decision and try to avoid actually closing that beach unless there is imminent danger."

Simmer says no monitored beaches were closed last year, but advisories were issued.

Click here to see if there are any advisories for Iowa monitored beaches.