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Water Recreation Health and Safety

Water-based physical activity can improve physical and mental health throughout life. However, it can also put people at risk for recreational water-associated illness or injury. The City of Milwaukee Health Department works with partners to monitor the water quality at natural bodies of water used for recreational activities in the city of Milwaukee.

City of Milwaukee Beach Water Quality Monitoring

The City of Milwaukee Health Department, along with the UW-Milwaukee Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health, conducts water sampling and analysis from Memorial Day to Labor Day at each of the city's three public beaches in order to issue beach water quality updates daily. These updates are issued daily for Bradford, McKinley, and South Shore beaches. Testing is done on samples from each beach to determine levels of E. coli, a micro-organism which is persistent in many parts of the environment.

Blue-Green Algae (Cyanobacteria) Information

Blue-green algae (or cyanobacteria) can be found naturally in all types of water and is a native algae species found throughout Wisconsin. When the weather gets warmer, conditions become more favorable for algal “blooms” to occur. While not all algal blooms are harmful, some can release toxins that are harmful to people and animals.

Harmful algal blooms may vary in their appearance, looking like foam or “scum” on the surface of the water. They can also change the water different colors (such as blue, green, or yellow) and release unpleasant odors.

To prevent illness or harm, pay attention to any signs at lakes or bodies of water about fishing, swimming, or recreational water use. Algal blooms are not always visible, and precautions should be taken.

Skin exposure to harmful algae blooms can cause a variety of symptoms including skin rash, hives, runny notes, irritated eyes and throat. Swallowing or ingesting water with a harmful algal bloom can cause symptoms including upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea, and headache or throat irritation. Severe cases can cause serious health concerns or death.

Dogs that come into contact with harmful algal blooms can get seriously ill and sometimes die because their bodies are smaller and they tend to swallow a lot of water.

To protect yourself or family from harmful algae:

  • Avoid contact with scum layers, large algae mats, or other visible blooms of blue-green algae.
  • Do not swim in areas where water is discolored or where you see foam, scum, or mats of algae on the water’s surface.
  • Do not fish from or drink water that appears foamy or scummy.
  • Avoid boating, jet-skiing, water-skiing or windsurfing through algal blooms.
  • Always wash your hands and shower off with soap and water after participating in recreational water activities.

To protect your pets from harmful algae:

  • Do not let dogs drink lake water during an algal bloom.
  • Do not let dogs eat algal scum or lick it off their fur.
  • Wash your dog off with clean water immediately if he/she swims or wades in water during an algal bloom.

For more information:


  • City of Milwaukee Health Department (Questions about health issues related to recreational water) (414) 286-3521
  • Milwaukee Department of Neighborhood Services (Complaints and licensing inquiries related to swimming pools) (414) 286-8674

Disease Control and Environmental Health

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