With the recent release of new recreational water quality monitoring criteria, there are more options for regulatory agencies seeking to protect beachgoers from waterborne pathogens. Included are methods that can reduce analytical time, providing timelier estimates of water quality, but the application of these methods has not been examined at most beaches for expectation of health risk and management decisions. In this analysis, we explore health and monitoring outcomes expected at Lake Michigan beaches using protocols for indicator bacteria including culturable Escherichia coli (E. coli; EC), culturable enterococci (ENT), and enterococci as analyzed by qPCR (QENT). Correlations between method results were generally high, except at beaches with historically high concentrations of EC. The “beach action value” was exceeded most often when using EC or ENT as the target indicator; QENT exceeded the limit far less frequently. Measured water quality between years was varied. Although methods with equivalent health expectation have been established, the lack of relationship among method outcomes and annual changes in mean indicator bacteria concentrations complicates the decision-making process. The monitoring approach selected by beach managers may be a combination of available tools that maximizes timely health protection, cost efficiency, and collaboration among beach jurisdictions.
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Choices in recreational water quality monitoring: new opportunities and health risk trade-offs