Use The Rinse Cycle

In 2006, the park district contracted with a company called Wild Goose Chase that stations border collies at beaches with notoriously high levels of E. coli. The collies–trained and monitored by professional handlers–prevent ring-billed gulls from landing on the beach. The collies are also trained to know the difference between a ring-billed gull and a migrating bird. The dogs are predominantly stationed at the city’s 63rd Street Beach from dawn until dusk every day during beach season.

Also in 2006, the city implemented a waste-recycling program with weighted containers that helped minimize the food sources that attract gulls. The city took the initiative a step further when it introduced “BigBelly” trash containers in 2007. The solar-powered trash compactors support fuel conservation and decreased emissions, but more importantly, they keep the gulls out.

Winning Technology

But the presence of E. coli could not be blamed solely on the gulls. In 2009, the city’s beach managers were the first to use a new cutting-edge technology to help clean the beaches. A set of two new surf rakes–named the Chicago Rakes–were used on all of the major beaches and were specially engineered for the park district.

Manufactured and designed by H. Barber & Sons Inc., the surf rakes are made from titanium metal and act like agricultural cultivators used to plow fields, digging 4 inches into the beach sand, whereas the former comb only skimmed the surface at a quarter of an inch. Studies suggest that near shore, sand helps cultivate and trap E. coli that eventually may be leached into recreational waters. The Chicago Rakes dig deeper into the sand, exposing the bacteria to UV light and oxygen, which helps decrease bacteria that may affect swimming waters.

The park district also is installing predictive-modeling systems at select beaches, which record environmental conditions such as wave height, wind speed and rainfall. The data collected will be used to build models to predict water quality, which will allow the park district to make decisions about swim bans in real time. The current water-testing method gives results in 18 to 24 hours.

A Little Help

Over the years, obtaining grants has been another important factor in the battle to maintain the beaches. For instance, the park district water-quality testing was in part funded by USEPA Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act funding, which is awarded to eligible coastal and Great Lakes states, territories and tribes to develop and use beach-monitoring and notification programs. This grant is administered by the IDPH. In 2008, the park district was awarded $80,000.

In 2010, the district was awarded three beach-related grants through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, totaling $594,760. A portion of the grant will be used to install a comprehensive beach communications program. The other portion of the grant will go toward the development of the predictive-modeling systems at four beaches, sanitary surveys of select beaches and an in-depth investigation of storm-water impacts at specific beaches.

Zvezdana Kubat is the assistant press secretary for the Chicago Park District. She can be reached via e-mail at

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  1. Mitigating Murky Water
  2. A Jumping Off Point
  3. Understanding Shallow-Water Blackout
  4. Disaster Diverted
  5. Twice The Use

One comment on “Use The Rinse Cycle

  1. Mike Mittermann on said:

    Do the Chicago beaches have resident populations of Canadian Geese? Excriment from these flying rats would seem to nurture the bacteria within even laying on the surface in full sunlight. Does Chicago have a Cladophora algea problem? If so, how does Chicago handle the thick blankets at the water’s edge? We hand rake tons of this stuff from our 300-foot long beach every summer. I am always in the search for inexpensive mechanical alternatives to hand raking here in the Village of Ephraim, Wisconsin, on the bay of Green Bay.

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