Efforts to improve public health protection in recreational swimming waters have focused on obtaining real-time estimates of water quality. Current monitoring techniques rely on the time-intensive culturing of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) from water samples, but rapidly changing FIB concentrations result in management errors that lead to the public being exposed to high FIB concentrations (type II error) or beaches being closed despite acceptable water quality (type I error). Empirical predictive models may provide a rapid solution, but their effectiveness at improving health protection has not been adequately assessed. We sought to determine if emerging monitoring approaches could effectively reduce risk of illness exposure by minimizing management errors. We examined four monitoring approaches (inactive, current protocol, a single predictive model for all beaches, and individual models for each beach) with increasing refinement at 14 Chicago beaches using historical monitoring and hydrometeorological data and compared management outcomes using different standards for decision-making. Predictability (R2) of FIB concentration improved with model refinement at all beaches but one. Predictive models did not always reduce the number of management errors and therefore the overall illness burden. Use of a Chicago-specific single-sample standard-rather than the default 235 E. coli CFU/100 ml widely used-together with predictive modeling resulted in the greatest number of open beach days without any increase in public health risk. These results emphasize that emerging monitoring approaches such as empirical models are not equally applicable at all beaches, and combining monitoring approaches may expand beach access.