Search this site:

OWML: Current Projects

Project Title: Beach Health Research—Ohio Water Science Center.

Project chief:  Donna Francy

Project support:  Amie Brady, Robert Darner

Project funding: Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, U.S. Geological Survey Oceans Research Priority Plan (2008-13)

Cooperators:  Cuyahoga County Board of Health, Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, University of Toledo, Lake County General Health District, Erie County Health Department

Project duration 2008 - 2015

Great Lakes Ocean Research Priorities Plan—Ohio Water Science Center.

Introduction and problem:

Water recreation and associated tourism add billions of dollars to the economy of the Great Lakes Region and provide numerous societal benefits. There are several problems, however, with the current approach to establishing beach closures and advisories. First, current beach monitoring practices rely on methods for culturing fecal-indicator bacteria that take 18-24 hours for results, too long to provide information on current water-quality conditions. Secondly, sources of fecal contamination in recreational waters are often unknown and/or of nonpoint origins. Development of methods that discriminate between human and animal nonpoint-source fecal contamination are needed to help identify risks associated with contaminated recreational waters. Finally, recreational waters are seldom monitored for pathogens, which often have different transport and survival properties than the fecal-indicator bacteria used to indicate their presence.

The USGS Great Lakes Ocean Research Priorities Plan (ORPP, funded through the U.S. Ocean Action Plan) and USEPA Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) provide the basis for regional research that includes collaboration of USGS scientists from Water Science Centers (WSC) in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York and the Great Lakes Science Center in Indiana.

Goals and Objectives:

The goal of the ORPP/GLRI is to advance the science of monitoring and assessing recreational water quality to provide beach managers with reliable, science based information to make well-informed beach closure decisions to protect public health. To read more, refer to the USGS Beach Health fact sheet.

Two elements are the focus of research activities by scientists in the Ohio WSC as part of the ORPP/GLRI project team:

  1. Real-time assessments of recreational water quality: Work with local and state agencies to develop and expand the use of operational real-time assessments (nowcasts) to more locations around the Great Lakes and improve the accuracy of existing nowcast systems. Real-time assessments include the use of predictive models and (or) rapid analytical methods. Some specific objectives include (a) exploring the use of real-time sensors for nowcast predictions, (b) providing models and consultation on model development and testing, and (c) applying and evaluating rapid analytical methods, such as such as quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) or immunomagnetic separation/adenosine triphosphate (IMS/ATP), at Great Lakes beaches. To read more, refer to the USGS fact sheet on real-time assessments.

    To read more about developing and applying nowcasts, refer to a report summarizing efforts by seven USGS centers and 23 local and state agencies to collect data, develop predictive models, and expand nowcasts at 49 beaches throughout the Great Lakes

  2. Pathogens and microbial source tracking markers (MST): Determine the occurrence of pathogens of concern for human health and MST markers at beaches susceptible to different sources of fecal pollution, and where detected, identify environmental variables related to their occurrence.  Occurrence of pathogens in environmental waters is typically found in low numbers, making it necessary to concentrate relatively large sample volumes with filtration procedures.  In addition, it would be advantageous and cost effective to use a method that can simultaneously sample for all classes of pathogens (viruses, bacteria, and protozoa), provided the method can be shown to provide consistent and good recoveries.   Some specific objectives are to (a) identify filtration/concentration methods that can simultaneously recover different types of pathogens, (b) identify the relations between bacterial indicator concentrations, environmental variables, and pathogen/MST detections or concentrations, and (c) identify whether a gull microbial source tracking (MST)  marker can discriminate correctly between fecal sources. To read more, refer to the USGS fact sheet on pathogens at Great Lakes beaches.


Current activities for Ohio WSC scientists during 2014-15 include the following:Weather station at Mentor Headlands, OH.

  • Continue to work with local agencies on the maintenance and operation of the Ohio Nowcast, where operational predictive models are used to post advisories at eight Lake Erie beaches.

    • At Huntington, measure photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) with an on-shore platform.
    • At Mentor Headlands State Park (Lake County) maintain a weather station to measure precipitation, wind speed and direction, atmospheric pressure, air temperature and net solar radiation. (USGS Site 414514081174400).
    • Provide quality-controls samples and quality-assurance checks of local agencies collecting data.