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How the city tests Madison's lakes for safety

Heavy rainfall means more bacteria in lakes

MADISON, Wis. - With water samples from lake Michigan and Lake Superior falling short of national standards, heavy rains could put Madison swimmers at risk if they take a dip in the wrong water.

Public Health Madison and Dane County tests beaches for bacteria about once a week. the organization routinely shuts down water access at public lakefront spots if bacteria levels are too high.

The Clean Lakes Alliance started a pilot program this summer to gather lake data more frequently and get a better read on when beaches can be accessed. 

Jon Standridge used to test water for the state, but now he's the lead scientist for the citizen monitoring program. He trains lakeside neighbors to test for water clarity and temperature form their piers.

"Then we'll have daily results which will give us a much better feel for when to close the beaches and when to keep them open," Standridge said.

Standridge expects this summer to be a bad algae season. Last year, the drought caused more issues with lake weeds. However, Standridge said the heavy rains in the past week  led to run-off which put more phosphorous into the water. Those increased levels of nutrients leads to algae bloom.

VIDEO: Heavy rainfall means more bacteria in Madison lakes

"Some days they're out there and they don't produce toxins. Other days they do," Standrige said. " Over the long haul, we need to worry about them."

As a part of the pilot program, the Clean Lakes Alliance is also testing lake Mendota daily for E. Coli.

"The more E. Coli, the more risk there is to swimmers for getting sick." Standridge said.

He added the levels have been much higher since storms in Madison this week, but he's seeing them go down.

The Clean Lakes Alliance hopes to expand the program to create an online data base of lake water data.

For more information on the citizen monitoring program, visit

To check in on beach closings in Madison and Dane County, go to

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