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.