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The window for beach season in Wisconsin is short. Public Health Madison & Dane County is already hard at work making sure you make the most of it. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, a team from Public Health monitors conditions and test water at local beaches, splash pads and pools to determine if they are safe for recreation and swimming.

“With the warmer weather we’ve been seeing, we’ve already had to close a couple of beaches because of bacteria levels, which is a little unusual this early in the season,” says Jennifer Lavender-Braun, Microbiologist for Public Health Madison & Dane County.

Staff collect samples at Dane County beaches every week, then bring them back to the lab for analysis. Those results will indicate whether E. coli bacteria and blue-green algae are present and whether a beach can be open for swimming. Crews check the water quality each weekday until levels return to normal, and Public Health posts the status of each beach on their website or you can sign up for email alerts. You can also check the status of beaches statewide here.

“Lots of sunlight, heat and low wind levels are perfect conditions for blue-green algae to form murky blooms in freshwater that can be toxic to people and animals,” says Lavender-Braun.

If you suspect your pet was exposed to blue-green algae after swimming or shows symptoms of exposure like vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, disorientation, drooling and trouble breathing, take your pet to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

“It’s important to remember that conditions can change rapidly, so always remember to check the status of the beach before heading out, and take a look at the water conditions before jumping in,” says Lavender-Braun. “Outside of the regular testing we do, beach visitors are our eyes and ears, so anyone who notices something is off about the water should let us know.”

If you suspect there is a bloom at a beach, avoid the water and contact Public Health at (608) 266-4821 and someone will be sent out to check on the water quality conditions at that beach.