Chicago Park District Improves Beach Monitoring for 2012 Season


New for the 2012 beach season, the Chicago Park District will provide beach goers with real-time water quality results at 16 out of 24 designated swim beaches, beginning with the start of swim season on Friday, May 25 and running through Monday, Sept. 3.

Real-time water quality results will be obtained using predictive modeling, which uses weather data to predict bacteria levels in real-time.  This method improves the accuracy of water quality information provided to the public and reflects the most current conditions instead of conditions at the time of the most recent test, often the previous day.  Predictive modeling has been used successfully at several other Great lakes beaches and is supported by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA).

The Park District installed high-tech monitoring equipment at several beaches in 2011 that collected data on weather and water conditions such as wave height, water temperature, rainfall, and wind speed.  Over the winter, the Park District worked with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to build statistical models that use weather data to predict bacteria levels in real-time.

“The Chicago Park District strives to integrate the latest technology in our efforts to manage and maintain the health of our beaches,” said Michael P. Kelly, Chicago Park District General Superintendent and CEO. “With more than 20 million patrons visiting our beaches each summer, we work to provide the most accurate information in a timely fashion, while also searching for ways to keep our beaches healthy for all to enjoy.”

Additionally, the Park District will no longer follow a three-tiered system for issuing swim advisories and bans based on water quality test results.  Instead, like all other beaches in Illinois, the Park District will continue to follow USEPA guidance and issue swim advisories when E. coli results are above the federal water quality criteria.  The Park District will no longer issue swim bans based on test results at a higher threshold.  Several years of intensive data collection and analysis has shown that this policy was too restrictive and prone to inaccurate results.  Swim bans will continue to be issued for any hazard at a beach, including sewer overflows, lightning, dangerous waves or weather related risks.  The Park District will continue to test the beaches for bacteria every day to ensure that the models are working properly and will continue to refine the models.  Swim advisories will continue to be posted based on testing results at the beaches without working models.

White board signs will be posted near lifeguard posts in efforts to provide more information to the public that will detail real-time test results based on predictive models, test results based on laboratory testing, water temperature and the reason for any swim action posted for that day.

The following flag notification system tells patrons the current status of beaches: 

Green Flag – Swimming is permitted.  Water is calm and quality is safe based on current monitoring for E. Coli bacteria.

Yellow Flag – Advisory is in effect.  Caution is advised. Water and weather conditions are unpredictable. Restrictions may be implemented. Increased risk of illness may be present based on current monitoring for E. Coli bacteria. 

Red Flag – Swim ban in effect due to severe weather and/or water conditions, which may be hazardous.

There are several known causes of high E. Coli bacteria counts in the lake water, which include high temperatures, heavy rainfall, waste from gulls or other wildlife, and swimmers themselves.  The public can help reduce bacteria levels by not feeding birds, not littering, and putting small children in waterproof swim diapers. 

The following additional beach mitigation initiatives are currently in place to reduce probable bacteria sources:

  • Daily beach maintenance includes recycling and trash pick-up and beach combing with cutting-edge technology, introduced in 2009. A set of two surf rakes that act similar to agricultural cultivators used to plow fields, dig four inches into the beach sand, whereas the former comb only skimmed the surface at a quarter of an inch.  Studies suggest that near shore sand helps cultivate and trap E. Coli that eventually may get leached into recreational waters. Referred to as the Chicago Rakes, these beach combers dig deeper into the sand exposing the bacteria to UV light and oxygen which will help decrease bacteria that may potentially affect swimming waters.
  • New beach grooming equipment that can remove small items from the sand and algae from the waterline will be used to help clean the beaches daily.
  • Border collies will continue to be used at 63rd Street and 57th Street beaches eliminating draw of a “safe harbor” at the beach for seagulls.  This program effectively reduced swim advisories at these locations in the past.
  • Beach ambassadors return and will be working at Chicago’s most popular beaches to educate beach goers about what they can do to help keep Chicago beaches cleans.

Patrons are asked to observe the following beach rules:  Obey lifeguards and swim only when lifeguards are present.  No glass, alcohol or smoking on the beach.  Properly dispose of food, diapers and other refuse.  Do not feed birds.  Dogs are only allowed in designated dog areas.  Please put swim diapers on small children. Grilling is only allowed in designated areas and coals should be disposed in the red hot metal containers.  Please do not dump hot coals at the base of trees or near playgrounds.  Swimming is permitted and lifeguards are on duty at all beaches from 11:00am to 7:00pm, unless otherwise posted.

A texting service is available that will communicate to beach goers the swim status of a beach by texting the name of your beach to (312) 715-SWIM.  To get a list of swim status at all beaches, text the word ‘beaches’.  In addition, beach goers can also access information on swim status by calling the Chicago Park District Beach Hotline at 312-74-BEACH, checking or following us on Facebook and Twitter for the swim status at each beach.

The Chicago Park District has more than 100 public pools, 51 of which are outdoor pools that open for the season Friday, June 15 - Monday, Sept. 3.  Outdoor pool hours are 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.  Admission is free to Park District pools, but fees vary for lap swim and instructional classes.

Admission to Chicago’s beaches is free.  For a list of locations or for more information, visit the Park District website at or call the Beaches and Pools Unit at 312-742-5121.


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