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No day at the beach when it comes to bacteria

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Posted at 11:53 AM, Jun 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-23 11:53:11-04

It's a problem beach-goers across Western New York are all too familiar with. 

The latest victim: Olcott Beach. High levels of bacteria were detected in the water Wednesday. The Niagara County Health Department issued a beach advisory Wednesday afternoon, saying the water is not suitable for swimming. Fortunately for beach lovers, there hasn't been a lot of rain. 

But when it pours, treatment plants discharge gallons of sewage into Lake Erie and Ontario. Storm drains, sewer pipes and treatment plants cannot handle the amount of water that flows into the system, and overflows. That waste has to go somewhere, and unfortunately that somewhere is Lake Erie.

This isn't just a problem here in Western New York, but all across the Great Lakes. More than 24 billion gallons of sewage is dumped into the Great Lakes every year.

In just one week back in 2011, 80 million gallons of sewage flowed into Lake Erie. That's enough to fill 120 Olympic-sized pools.

Municipalities are making efforts to improve the amount of sewage discharge into the Great Lakes. Detroit has made significant reductions in the amount of sewage that is dumped into it's local rivers and streams, and eventually Lake Erie. From 25 billion gallons a little over two decades ago to around to around one to three billion gallons a year today. 

Crews last year spent $16 million in upgrades at Woodlawn Beach to prevent fertilizers, sewage and other harmful chemicals from flowing into the water. The Rush Creek Interceptor Project was completed last year.