Freshman Arena Lewis swims in Lake Baw Beese.
(Photo: Facebook)

With warmer tem­per­a­tures moving in, stu­dents grav­itate towards Baw Beese Lake, located 3.8 miles from campus, in search of a safe haven from campus.

The one problem: no one knows if the water is safe, since the water has not been tested at the state level within the past decade.

Jeffrey Surfus, an envi­ron­mental quality analyst at the Michigan Department of Envi­ron­mental Quality, mon­itors dis­charges to surface water through the National Pol­lutant Dis­charge Elim­i­nation System.

“We just don’t have the resources to do this type of mon­i­toring anymore,” Surfus said. “In the past we used to do a lot more routine mon­i­toring to check the health of the water.”

The question of the water quality at Baw Beese arose when Lime Lake was reported to have traces of e-coli. Whereas Lime Lake doesn’t have a public beach, Baw Beese does — Sandy Beach.

“At this point I would say that there are no plans to test the water soon,” Surfus said. “Given the makeup of the DEQ, this type of testing is not what happens on a con­sistent basis.”

Molly Rippke, Aquatic Biol­ogist Spe­cialist at the Michigan DEQ, observes mon­i­toring of lakes at the Michigan state level.

She, too, could not find any data showing recent testing done on Baw Beese.

“We don’t have any data on e-coli there period,” Rippke said. “Having it being the head water to a stream make its simpler to know what is going into the body of water, but also a little more dif­ficult to monitor.”

According to Rippke, Sandy Beach has not been tested by the state since 2004.

“Sandy Beach did meet require­ments back in 2004, but it is dif­ficult to draw con­clu­sions on what that is like today,” she said.

As far as Rippke is aware, mon­i­toring is often con­ducted by the local health department. But the Branch-Hillsdale Com­munity Health Agency cur­rently lacks the funding and staffing to conduct any such water testing.

“We do not do any testing for any of the beaches in our counties,” Paul Andri­aachi, Envi­ron­mental Health Director said. “It’s one of those pro­grams that we do not have the funding to be able to support.”

When asked what the public should do to ensure the safety of their beach waters, Andri­aachi said that people should swim at their own risk.

“There just isn’t the funding or the staff,” he said. “It would be nice, but there’s just never enough funding.”

Due to a lack of gov­ern­mental funding, the mon­i­toring of the lake can be put in the hands of private cit­izens through the forming of lake asso­ci­a­tions, for which funding and grants could be acquired.

“Cit­izens can get involved with lake asso­ci­a­tions that can take up the act of mon­i­toring the water,” Surfus said.