Water quality data collected by Chicago-area volunteers is being used to help Illinois shape the state's water quality guidelines in conjunction with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"Our Adopt-a-Beach program has been working with volunteers in Chicago and elsewhere in Illinois and we've been closely engaged with partners at the EPA and trying to share our volunteers' data more broadly," says Lyman Welch, water quality program manager for the Alliance for the Great Lakes in Chicago. "It's been an intentional process to share our data with state and federal regulators."
Data on bacterial contamination collected by Adopt-a-Beach volunteers is being used by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to establish total maximum daily load (TMDL) standards with the U.S. EPA as required by the Clean Water Act. Bacterial contamination from sewer overflows, animal feces and septic systems disrupts the ecosystem and lead to beach closures and the loss of tourism revenue.
The data supplied by volunteers who sample the water through the Alliance's Adopt-a-Beach program will be used in an Illinois EPA report destined for the U.S. EPA. "This is the first time for the Adopt-a-Beach data to be recognized and considered as part of the bacteria TMDL for beaches," Welch says. "A couple of years ago, we intentionally revamped data collection forms and methods with EPA's sanitary survey forms for beaches in mind."
Welch says each state must create its own TMDL with the approval of the U.S. EPA, because each waterway has unique factors. "Beaches can be different in the way that bacteria effects them in terms of geography," Welch says. "That can vary quite a bit from beach to beach and jurisdiction to jurisdiction."
Amy Walkenbach, manager of watershed management for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, says the work of volunteers is crucial to the state's water quality efforts. "If something is going on, they can send up a red flag for what is going on right away and if they see any changes from the norm," she says. "Some of our volunteer programs at the state level have suffered due to the economy and funding cuts and many of the volunteers chose to stay on. It shows their real dedication to the environment."
The Illinois EPA plans to complete the TMDL goals by September 2013 and to have all of the data collected by July 2012.