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Chicago's Beaches: The Cold, The Clean, And The Cruddy

By JoshMogerman in News on Jun 29, 2014 7:00PM

Oakwood Beach at 39th Street [jmogs]

It finally feels like summer! It finally feels like beach weather! It is odd that those statements are just coming now on the verge of the 4th of July holiday, but we’ll take it.

Beyond the mopey weather, remnants of the polar vortex had been keeping Lake Michigan too cold for comfy swims. We’ve recently cleared nipple-popping temperature levels, with water at Chicago beaches clocking in just shy of 70 degrees today.

But the Lake is still six degrees below its long-term average. (The problem is much worse to the north where portions of Lake Michigan linger in the 30’s).

If you aren’t careful, the chill could be the least of your problems. A day at the beach is probably the situation when most people are directly confronted by a nagging problem: water pollution. If you are not choosy about where and when you get into the water, you run the risk of [to put it mildly] digestive discomfort. And it can get worse from there.

NRDC’s 24th annual beach water quality report, Testing the Waters, makes that clear. NRDC reports that 1 in 10 beach water sample taken nationally exceeds federal health standards.

EPA data shows Illinois beaches rank in the middle of the pack nationally, with exceedence rates at 10 percent—significantly cleaner than neighboring Wisconsin (14 percent) and Indiana (13 percent).

Perhaps unsurprisingly Lake County, Indiana’s Jeorse Park Beaches stand as some of the nation’s most contaminated, sitting amidst the massive U.S. Steel Gary Works, Majestic Star Casino and the bustling Port of Indiana.

Closer to home, Cook County beach quality is a mixed bag, with many cleaner than the State average. And many…well…not.

Some of the cleanest beaches, according to last year’s testing data: 57th Street, Howard Street, Jarvis Street, and Loyola Street, North Avenue, Oak Street, and Oakwood Beaches in Chicago; Willmette’s Gillson and Langdon Beaches; Winnetka’s Lloyd, Maple Park and Tower Beaches; and all of Evanston’s beaches beat the state average.

Juneway Terrace and Rogers Park Beach are real standouts with only 1% of water samples showing high levels of contamination against the EPA’s stricter new Beach Action Value standard.

On the other side of the ledger, 12th Street, Jackson Park, Montrose, Rainbow, South Shore and Winnetka’s Elder Park beaches are all significantly nastier than the state average.

Chicago’s beaches are trouble free today—you should always check the Chicago Park District’s Web site before heading to the Lake. Do yourself a favor by staying out of the water after rainy days, when runoff is most likely to impact water quality.

As the Park District often repeats, you should “Know Before You Go.”