May 30, 2008

North Beach: A lesson for beaches everywhere

Julie Kinzelman at North Beach

Think back 10 years, when gasoline cost less than $2 a gallon, the stock market was booming and North Beach was frequently closed due to harmful bacteria. Day after hot summer day. "Health Hazard: Do Not Swim" the sign said in at least two languages.

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.

Big check; big smiles: Ambs, left; Kovalick, right

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


  1. This is a great story! But I am curious - how did Dr. Kinzelman "earn a Ph.D in public health and microbiology from the University of Surrey, England, in 2003" if she has been working in Racine for 18 years? Did she get time off to study in England - it can take 4-6 years to get a PhD after classes, comprehensive exam and thesis defense.

  2. Julie's a quick study. It was somewhat more than a one-year program, she told me, plus her thesis, much of it done from here online, but with a week in England for class and seminars here and there. ("All my vacation time," she told me). Yes, she was holding down the full-time job as well.

  3. Yes obviously if the topic of her thesis was North Beach I'd imagine she was able to do much of that during normal work hours. Testing the beach is part of her job, so sounds like she was able to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.

  4. Thank you for your response Pete. I'm sure she is a nice person and has done great work here but you can't possibly think that her PhD has even 1% of the legitimacy of a real degree. A real PhD program requires blood, sweat and real tears, working twelve and fourteen hour days, teaching classes on a teaching assistantship, writing papers and dealing with a thesis committee, and eating Raman noodles four nights a week as you figure out how to pay for rent on about $1500 per month (these days). A "fast study" gets done in maybe three years but you'll need everything to go right in the lab and better have at least one Nature or Science paper.

    Under this scenario, any technician who has worked in a lab for a few years can claim that they should be able to transfer their work to a PhD and this is just preposterous. The best part is being able to keep your full-time job and benefits while working on your PhD. What is really slick is if you can have a job as a college president or something with a handsome six-figure salary as you work on your correspondence PhD.

    The problem here is that the general public has no idea what a PhD is supposed to be. There is no board certification for a PhD like an MD (except for clinical PhDs - and none of those will ever be able to use a correspondence PhD either).

  5. Anonymous - How can you make such a statement? Your comments are baseless and rude. Dr. Kinzelman is not just a "technician who has worked in a lab for a few years". Were you there? Do you know the work that Dr. Kinzelman's research entailed? As one of her funders (the City of Racine), I can tell you Julie works as hard, if not harder, than any other research scientist out there. Dr. Kinzelman's PhD is every bit as real as her BS and MS degrees. She has spent years working on this research and dedicating her career to bettering our city, our beach, the great lakes, and beaches everywhere.

    She has spent years gathering data and working in both of her labs - the one in City Hall and the sands of North Beach. Julie has developed methods to test beach water quality, identify actual sources of contamination, and clean up beaches. During the summer months when the beach testing is in full swing, Julie can be found at City Hall or North Beach early in the morning, late in the evening, and on weekends. This groundbreaking research has been used by the Canadian and US EPA's to set new standards for clean beaches in both countries. She has been published in scientific journals and is asked to speak at conferences at home and abroad.

    Dr. Kinzleman received grants from state and federal agencies, NGO's, and private corporations. She has worked in cooperation with all of the above in conducting her research projects. Her PhD is hard earned, well deserved, and REAL.

    The City of Racine should be proud of Dr. Kinzelman. Her work here has made lasting changes to our environment and quality of life.

  6. I had not intended to turn this into a personal attack, and it isn’t, but Greg, my comments are not baseless - a real PhD degree is based on more than hard work, and I have no doubt that she works hard and is intelligent. A real PhD requires one to take classes, pass an oral AND written comprehensive exam that allows one's comprehensive exam committee to decide if one is a CANDIDATE for the PhD degree (paying for the classes and certification doesn’t make you a candidate), perform thesis research, write a thesis and successfully defend it in front of a committee. YOU are the one who knows absolutely nothing about the process. Again, there are numerous 55-60 year old technicians in this country, many with Master’s degrees and a hundred or more publications, who have their hands on their hips and jaws on the floor watching people get doctorates in this way. Could Kinzelman have obtained a real PhD, maybe, but try telling that to technicians who couldn’t afford to drop their salaries to go back to graduate school because of the salary and time required.

    “I can tell you Julie works as hard, if not harder, than any other research scientist out there”. This sounds great Greg but how many “research scientists” can you name let alone know about any of their work ethics?

    Everyone likes Kinzelman and her hard work has helped this area, and I would say that I am proud of the work she has done. But her doctorate is, well, what it is. Call someone at Parkside or in Madison if you don’t believe me.

  7. "The problem here is that the general public has no idea what a PhD is supposed to be"

    Piled Higher and Deeper

    Where do I pick my prize up?

  8. Anonymous-

    If Julie's PHD was suspect by UW Parkside, why does she have a faculty appointment there and teaches at that institution?

  9. For recycling that old joke (the redundancy of saying "higher and deeper" is akin to saying something is "bigger and larger") your prize is two newer jokes: Post Hole Digger and Pin Head Driver

    If Kinzeman has a faculty appointment at Parkside, that's great - her knowledge and experience probably make her a wonderful teacher. However, I'm sure this is based on her Master's and her experience - she didn't get it because of her "PhD". There are certainly people teaching there with B.S. and B.A. degrees only. In addition, I am sure she has an adjunct or other part-time arrangement and I assure you that those have different standards than a true tenure-track position. She would not be considered for a tenure track position there, and she also would not have received a PhD from the UW system in the manner she received it from the school in England.

    NOTE TO PETE AND DUSTIN: I know that you started this newspaper to serve this area with facts, unlike the Journal Times, which unfortunately has become a somewhat less well-written version of The Shepherd with local advertizing. I would welcome – in fact I encourage – your investigation of all of the points I have made. This article was about the lake and the wonderful work Kinzelman has done but it made a big deal about her “PhD” and that is where I have been trying to identify an issue for you and your readers.

  10. One more point:

    Pete has what, 30 or 40 + years experience in journalism, tremendous respect from colleagues and friends and works very hard on a labor of love, this newspaper. Will he be writing a number of new pieces in the next year as part of his efforts at the Racine Post? Does he have time for “a week of classes and seminars here and there”? If so, he could easily go online and find a school in another hemisphere that will allow him to roll this up into a PhD in journalism or mass communications. If anyone complains, his friends can become indignant and say that he is a wonderful person, deserves it, works harder than anyone else in the industry, presents at meetings, brings in money, etc.

    Could Pete have obtained a PhD in the appropriate way? I can’t comment but my suspicion is yes, but the fact is that he didn’t. Does he miss having a PhD? I doubt it very much. His accomplishments are out there for all to see.

    See how one can be congratulatory on one’s efforts and experience yet critical about one thing?

  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  12. Ah yes, a truly intelligent comment. Is that you Greg?

  13. Sounds like someone is jealous...

  14. Jealous of someone with a glorified online PhD? Hardly - just sick of people who think it's the same as a real degree. The story is gone for some reason but if you would have read about the local psychiatrist who was honored for his local work, you would have seen a great person, hard worker AND a great CV with real degrees. Ask both of us if we're jealous. . .