May 30, 2008
North Beach: A lesson for beaches everywhere
Well, that was then. "Credit" whomever you like for what's happened to gas and stock prices, but much of the credit for North Beach's renaissance goes to Julie Kinzelman.
She was the woman of the hour Friday morning ("Racine has two treasures: kringle and Kinzelman," said Benjamin Grumbles, Assistant Administrator, office of Water, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), as the federal government handed an over-sized check to the state (think of those Lottery checks you've never won) , along with the unveiling of a "cool tool" that will be used nationwide to clean up beaches everywhere.
All because of work that Julie Kinzelman pioneered here. It all seems so basic now. Find out what the sources of beach pollution are and fix them. But 10 years ago, everybody pointed to seagulls as the culprit -- and how do you get rid of them? Well, it turns out -- thanks to Kinzelman's careful monitoring of beach pollution sources -- that the gulls were only part of the problem, maybe half of it, maybe a bit more or less. She also pinpointed pollution coming from storm water runoff (as well as a few errant septic systems.)
And then she followed up with remedial efforts: diversion of the storm water to a newly constructed wetlands area; beach grooming that helps the sand dry more quickly, killing the bacteria already there; and efforts to reduce the gull visitors: more people on the beach is a start, and berms soon to be constructed along the boardwalk will also help. The result: Beaches closed only about 5% of the summer.
Kinzelman, a Racine native, has worked for the city's Department of Health for 18 years. She's now Dr. Kinzelman, having earned a Ph.D in public health and microbiology from the University of Surrey, England, in 2003. Her thesis topic: North Beach.
Friday's ceremony -- scheduled to be held at the North Beach Oasis but moved indoors to keep the 50 or so officials dry in case of rain (that never came) -- was a check-passing bit of governmental theater: a three-foot wide, non-negotiable check for $222,400 from EPA to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, signifying the state's usual share of EPA's annual $10 million largesse for beaches. Amid flashing cameras, Walter Kovalick, Acting Deputy Regional Administrator, U.S. EPA, Region 5, handed it over to Todd Ambs, Water Administrator, Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources. Big smiles and handshakes all around.
But the more important announcement was the unveiling of the "Great Lakes Beach Sanitary Survey Tool" designed to help beach managers everywhere identify sources of bacterial contamination so they can be addressed. Great Lakes beaches pilot-testing the survey last summer were open 95% of the summer.
David Ullrich, executive director of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, called North Beach "the Malibu of the Midwest," and nobody disagreed or snickered. He said Kinzelman's "marvelous work" is an influence throughout the Great Lakes.
City Council President David Maack, filling in for Mayor Gary Becker, reminded those present -- aldermen, County Executive Bill McReynolds, State Sen. John Lehman, Reps. Bob Turner and Cory Mason among others -- that "it wasn't so long ago that North Beach was struggling... but we've become an example of how to get things done." The city's effort, costing about $750,000, was assisted by citizen volunteers, the SCJohnson Foundation, Sustainable Racine, the Root Pike Watershed Initiative, Wisconsin DNR among others.
In detailing the new beach sanitary survey tool, Grumbles said "it is a local priority and also a national priority to keep the beaches healthy, so the only things you catch at the beach are sun and waves." He gave special kudos to the City of Racine for helping to develop the tool. "What you're doing here is all making a difference. North Beach is a model for the rest of the country."
Ambs, of the Wisconsin DNR, said this has been a great week for the Great Lakes, starting with the signing of the Great Lakes Compact and ending with the receipt of EPA's check and the distribution of the survey tool. "It's hard to know where you're going if you don't know where you've been," he said.
For more information, try these links:
Great Lakes Beach Sanitary Survey Tool
EPA's Beach Watch
Latest Wisconsin beach conditions