HAMMOND | Federal dollars that exclusively fund the state program that monitors Lake Michigan beaches for contaminants could be lost to budget cuts, officials with the program said Thursday.
Michelle Caldwell, Beach Grant Program coordinator for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management's Northwest Indiana regional office in Merrillville, told a group of local experts gathered for a World Water Day summit at Purdue University Calumet that without the funds, the program will not exist in 2014.
"I'm afraid," Caldwell said. "I'm fearful."
There are no state or local funds dedicated to beach monitoring.
The program tests for E. coli bacteria at all Lake Michigan beaches in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties except for those under the jurisdiction of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
"It's also a mandate," Caldwell said. "The states were required to create these monitoring programs."
The results of the tests are used to determine beach advisories and closures in an effort to protect human health. The testing season runs for 114 days at 24 beach sites.
Caldwell said 2011 was the best year to date, with beaches open 84 percent of the season. In 2010, beaches were open 82 percent of the season.
Susan Mihalo, secretary of Save the Dunes board of directors and a board member of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, said she believes the funding for the program could be rolled into money allotted for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.*
Mihalo is encouraging a grass-roots effort to support continued funding of the work.
"Contact your legislators to let them know people care about the beaches," Mihalo said.
*Editor's note: This story has been corrected from an earlier version. Susan Mihalo's title was inaccurately reported. The Times regrets the error.