Taking Back the Beachhead

By Cameron Davis

Part of what makes our cities and towns around the Great Lakes so important is our beaches. During the seasonable months—and even in the not-so-seasonable months, when a growing cadre of surfers shred the waves —big cities like Chicago get tens of millions of visits to their lakefronts. Great Lakes towns have some of the best beaches in the world…some with legendary “singing sands” (sand that makes noise when it is walked on), fresh water that doesn’t burn your eyes, and of course, no sharks or stinging jellyfish. Just ask organizations like the Great Lakes Beach Association that work to keep our beaches great.

But, from time to time, swimming advisories go into effect because of high pathogen levels. Nearby runoff drains, parking lots, and attractions for birds and wildlife (leftover picnics, overflowing garbage from trash cans, intentional wildlife feeding, wastewater overflows, the list goes on…) result in microbial pollution that can turn a day at the beach from a blast to a bummer.

This week in Sandusky, Ohio, I joined U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur and several mayors to announce more than $2 million in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) funding to protect beaches and shoreline areas by using green infrastructure. That is the use of nature—green roofs, wetlands, rain gardens, bioswales and other plants to capture polluted runoff—to protect and improve nearby water quality.

As  Dave Ullrich, executive director of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative said at the time of the announcement, “Cities all along the Great Lakes are working hard to connect with the water in ways that are good for the Lakes and good for the quality of life and economic well-being of the people who live there.  These investments are yet another example of how the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is making a huge difference on the shores and in the Lakes.”

These projects won’t rescue all the beaches around the Great Lakes in every way. However, little by little, thanks to the GLRI—the largest Great Lakes-only investment in ecosystem health in U.S. history—the beachhead assaults we experience will be about fewer swimming advisories and instead, result in cleaner water for recreation.