Keeping your residential beach safe for friends and family

Being confident that your beach is safe for use by family and friends is important to waterfront property owners. A current participant in Michigan State University Extension’s Lake & Stream Leaders Institute shares some helpful tips.

Swimming beach on a private lakefront property. Photo credit: Jane Herbert
Swimming beach on a private lakefront property. Photo credit: Jane Herbert

Is your private beach safe for you, your family, and visitors? Because water can enter your lake or stream from the surrounding areas that drain into your lake or stream (watershed), it is important to understand the land use practices in the watershed that may affect water quality and safety at your private beach. The following topics include some steps a current participant in Michigan State University Extension’s Lake & Stream Leaders Institute shared that you can take in making your beach a safer place.

Trash: Monitor your beach area for physical objects that can be unsafe or cause injury. Frequently survey for trash that may have washed up or dropped by previous visitors. Provide a trash bin when hosting a gathering at your beach. Do not allow glass containers on the beach.

Weather: Thunder and lightning are warning signals for seeking shelter. For safety, remove all bathers from the water before and during a thunderstorm. During heavy rains, lakes and streams can be receptacles for untreated storm water. Waterways can become contaminated after a large rain event due to runoff from impervious surfaces in the watershed. Postponing swimming (and other full body contact activities) after a heavy rain may be advisable.

Fecal Material: Young children and toddlers should be encouraged to use the bathroom before going to the beach, and they should be given frequent bathroom breaks. Ask your friends and family to refrain from using the beach if they are sick. If you allow pets in the beach area, clean up after them. Do not feed ducks, geese, or gulls near your beach area. These practices will reduce the amount of fecal material (and associated bacteria) on the beach and in the water.

Aquatic plants and algae: Natural waterways naturally support the growth of rooted aquatic plants and algae. Overgrowths of plants and algae are often related to the overuse of lawn fertilizers or lack of septic tank maintenance. Excess plants and algae can be raked out by hand, but mechanical or chemical removal requires a state permit. Study up on blue-green algae (cyanobacteria). If you see a thick green scum on the lake, avoid swimming in that area. It may be blue-green algae (cyanobacteria). These algae can create toxic blooms that can make animals and humans sick.

Skin irritation: An issue that appears at beaches periodically is swimmers itch. It is a result of a small flatworm parasite. The larvae use snails and waterfowl as their hosts during their development. But sometimes, they burrow into human skin by mistake. The larvae die but cause an irritated area on the skin for a few days. If there has been cases of swimmers itch on your lake, towel off all bathers immediately after they leave the water to reduce the risk of irritated skin.

General precautions: It is always good to have a cell phone available at the beach for emergencies. Ask all friends and family to use life jackets if they are not good swimmers. Follow all safety recommendations for swim rafts anchored in the water. Provide safety rules for all your family and guests when using your dock and boats.

It is important to keep your family and friends safe when they visit your private beach. The above steps may prevent an illness or accident. Make your beach, and beach memories, a resource they will treasure.

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