The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act) was passed by Congress in October 2000 to "reduce the risk of disease to users of the nation's recreational waters." The Act addresses pathogens and pathogen indicators, such as Escherichia coli (E. coli), in coastal recreation waters and contains three distinct provisions, summarized as follows:
Under the BEACH Act, Indiana has used grant dollars to develop the Lake Michigan Beaches Program. Indiana 's 45 miles of Lake Michigan Shoreline is located on the northern edge of Lake , Porter and La Porte Counties . The funding, among other positive impacts, has helped increase the frequency of E. coli monitoring at Indiana's Lake Michigan Beaches. E. coli is a type of fecal coliform bacteria commonly found in the intestines of animals and humans. The presence of E. coli in water is a strong indicator of recent sewage or biological waste contamination. Sewage may contain many types of disease-causing organisms.
Before the development of Indiana's Beaches Monitoring and Notification Program, Indiana's coastal beaches were monitored 1-2 times per week. The funding has allowed for more partner communities, including Hammond, East Chicago, City of Whiting, Lake County Parks, Gary, Ogden Dunes, Indiana Dunes State Park, Dunes Acres, Beverly Shores, Michigan City and LaPorte County, to participate in the program as well as to increase the frequency of sampling and analysis of water samples for E. coli at their beaches to 5 - 7 days per week. Currently, 25 beaches (not including the eight National Lakeshore Beaches) are monitored through Indiana’s Lake Michigan Beaches Program.
IDEM is also using the grant resources to keep the public informed. Beach managers and/or park departments notify the public by posting beach advisories or beach water closure signs. At minimum, they post beach water advisory signs to warn of potential E. coli contamination. During beach season 2009, IDEM installed new fixed signage at all the Lake Michigan beaches participating in the program. The new signs employ an easy to understand “stop light” color-coding where the color of the sign corresponds to the status of the beach (i.e. Red = Closed, Yellow = Advisory, Green = Open). The new signage also includes a sign notifying the public that the beach is monitored for E. coli and a URL to access beach monitoring data. A Spanish translation legend sign completes the set.
In 2002, The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) began the development of a Beach Monitoring and Notification Plan (BMNP) as required by U.S. EPA for Indiana 's portion of the Lake Michigan shoreline. This work was completed in 2003, with the assistance of project partners, including Save the Dunes Conservation Fund, Indiana University Northwest and the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant College Program.
The project partners worked with beach stakeholders along Indiana 's 45 miles of Lake Michigan Shoreline located on the northern edge of Lake, Porter and LaPorte Counties. The stakeholder group consisted of beach owners (coastal cities and towns), Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the Indiana Dunes State Park and beachgoers.