Swim at Your Own Risk in 2012

The Chicago Park District will no longer ban swimmers from Lake Michigan due to high bacteria levels

Beach goers this summer will have to swim at their own risk in Lake Michigan, even if bacteria levels are high.

The Chicago Park District said this week it will still test for bacteria and issue advisories when E. Coli levels are higher than normal, but lifeguards won't stop people from swimming. Several years of past results show standards are too restrictive and prone to errors, the district said. 

“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, park district CEO, in a statement. “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.”

The lack of bans doesn't mean swimmers won't be warned, though.

The district said it will provide predictive, real-time water quality results on signs near lifeguard posts at 16 of 24 "swim-designated" beaches. Parks officials said the new monitoring system "improves the accuracy of water quality information."

The tests will reflect current water conditions instead of conditions found at the time of the most recent test, which the district said often are taken 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 district said in a statement.

Last summer, beaches were closed 36 times because of the quality of the water.

Swimming season at Chicago beaches officially begins Friday and runs through Sept. 3.

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