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Harrison Township — The popular beach at Lake St. Clair Metropark was closed more than one-third of the time last summer because of elevated E. coli levels, but officials say tests show the water’s fine there and at other Macomb County beaches as this year’s swimming season gets underway.

All five of the beaches monitored by the Macomb County Health Department have recorded acceptable E. coli levels since the county began releasing data in mid-April.

Three of the beaches — Lake St. Clair Metropark, New Baltimore Park Beach and St. Clair Memorial Park Beach — are on Lake St. Clair, which is key to Macomb County’s “Blue Economy” initiative.

County Executive Mark Hackel called beachfront access in the county “extremely important” and said he wants the county to reduce untreated waste discharges and increase access to waterfront sites.

“We need to make sure we’re cleaning up what we’ve got and giving access for people to enjoy,” Hackel said.

George Phifer, director of Huron-Clinton Metroparks, said E. coli levels at the Lake St. Clair Metropark beach are largely driven by the weather. During last year’s rainy summer, the beach was closed for 47 days — more than twice the number reported for any other year since 2010.

County and parks officials think last year’s high number of closures was the exception, rather than the rule.

“Based on what I’ve seen, there hasn’t been a major shift in the number of days the beach is closed,” Phifer said. “On those days, we might not have as many people on the beach, but we still have a number of people in the park.”

Last year, just under 190,000 people visited Lake St. Clair Metropark, formerly Metro Beach Metropark, between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. Lisa Croff, a spokeswoman for Huron-Clinton Metroparks, said officials expect well over 200,000 visitors this summer, including 15,000 to 20,000 over the Memorial Day weekend.

Despite the good test results this spring, some beachgoers remain wary of venturing into the water.

Lena Farah, of Sterling Heights, visited the Lake St. Clair Metropark beach last week with son Antonio, 3; daughter Juliet, 18 months; and sister Lenora Kash, also of Sterling Heights.

Farah said she never goes in the water because of its murkiness and concerns over E.coli.

Kash said the lake water has always been dirty.

“It has never been clean — I’m disgusted by seaweed,” she said.

Even when they can’t use the beach, Farah and Kash said the park’s pool and children’s splash pad are nice alternatives.

Although work crews at Lake St. Clair Metro Park clean the sand along the edge of the water every day, Phifer said that strong winds can drive lake weed and algae to collect along the shoreline, creating piles of black sediment that can keep beachgoers out of the water.

“If you were out there last week, you wouldn’t have seen anything, but the wind changed and now it doesn’t look so good,” Phifer said Wednesday.

Macomb County officials test E.coli levels in the water twice a week and post results within a day.

E.coli issues spring up in Lake St. Clair for a variety of reasons but can often be connected to rainfall of more than 1 inch, sewage treatment overflows being discharged into the lake, and animal excrement.

In addition to signs posted at parks announcing beach closings, water test results can be found on the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Beach Guard website as well as the Macomb County Health Department website.

According to state officials, the Environmental Protection Agency announced last week that beach closings are no longer considered a part of its list of issues that need to be addressed along the U.S.-Canada border.

excarter@detroitnews.com

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