PORTER — Visitors are being urged to stay out of the water at the Portage Lakefront and West Beach at Indiana Dunes National Park after routine measurements discovered excessive levels of E. coli in the water at both locations.
Public Information Officer Bruce Rowe said standard weekly testing determined water at Portage contained 816.4 colony forming units per 100 milliliters; the West Shore reading was 313. Indiana’s state standard says E. coli counts should not exceed 235 CFU/100mL.
Neither beach is technically closed, because a lifeguard is never present at the Portage Lakefront and there are no lifeguards on duty at Gary's West Shore on Thursday. Lifeguards will be stationed at West Shore this weekend and if E. coli readings remain high at that time a closure is possible, Rowe said.
Regardless, Rowe recommended swimmers stay out of the water while contaminant levels are high to avoid ingesting potentially harmful bacteria that can cause gastrointestinal illness. The E. coli itself is not harmful, Rowe said, but the bacteria is an “indicator species” that identifies the likely presence of organisms in the water that can be harmful.
The reason for the high readings is unknown, but Rowe said readings tend to spike a few days after large local rain events, presumably because various natural and man-made bacteria enter the lake after being flushed from other areas.
No measurements at any of the park’s other beaches were above the state standard and they remain open without restriction.
Water at the Portage Lakeshore and West Beach will be tested daily until the presence of E. coli falls beneath the state standard. For updates on beach conditions, contact the visitor’s center at 219-395-1882 or visit the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s Beach Map at https://portal.idem.in.gov/BeachAlert/.