Time for a swim? You may want to check out the bacteria levels at your favorite beach, first.
Luckily, the states that govern the lakes and beaches in the Chicago area have made that process easy, by providing searchable databases with virtually everything you ever wanted to know about all each and private inland lake and every beach on the Lake Michigan coast.
In Illinois, beaches are monitored by the Environmental Health Division of the Illinois Department of Public Health, through the Illinois BeachGuard System. There you can check up on any of Illinois 439 public and private beaches and lakefronts - from the many beaches on Lake Michigan to the small lakes and campsites throughout the state. You can find a list of all advisories and closures, and download a complete history of beach actions - down to the individual monitoring results. You can also find out how often your beach is monitored.
You can also click on the "SearchExport" button to expand or narrow your search beyond a specific beach, and subscribe to an RSS feed to keep current on beach actions in the state.
Similarly, the Indiana BeachGuard System provides the same information as Illinois in a similar format, for its 57 public and private lakes - including the beaches along Lake Michigan. Indiana beaches are monitored by the state's Department of Environmental Management.
The setup in Wisconsin is a bit different, but the same information is available there as well. The state runs a website called Wisconsin Beach Health, where you can search advisories and actions by county, or research a beach in a searchable map. Information includes all Wisconsin beach advisories from 2003 to the present, and a searchable database of all E. coli monitoring reports. You can sign up for e-mail alerts and an RSS feed to stay up-to-date on water conditions. Wisconsin beaches are monitored by the state's Department of Natural Resources.
On the national level, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency runs BEACON 2.0 - short for "Beach Advisory and Closing On-line Notification," where you can run all kinds of searches and bring up a wealth of information on beaches nationwide.
For another perspective, the Natural Resources Defense Council, a non-profit environmental advocacy group, issues an annual report called Testing the Waters, which includes a searchable database of beaches throughout the country, and its yearly review of each state's beach-monitoring system and water quality.