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Ferris State University Shimadzu Core Laboratory Contributes to Collaborative Research of Wexford County Lake


Lingering poor water quality occurrences have been problematic for Billings Lake in Manton of Wexford County. Sky Pike, an assistant professor of Biological Sciences at Ferris State University, and his students were encouraged by recent information about the lake water through collaborative water quality studies.

“This past year, we found a link between rain events and elevated E. coli levels in Manton Creek upstream of Billings Lake,” Pike said. “It is our hope to successfully pin down the source of contamination during 2021.”

Pike is also director of the Shimadzu Core Laboratory for Academic and Research Excellence at Ferris. He said there were multiple beach closures due to elevated E. coli levels in Billings Lake over the past several years, though the source of these elevated levels remains a mystery.

“When the E. coli levels jump, and the water is unsafe for bathing, it takes an important community attribute out of service,” Pike said.

Excessive E. coli levels in beach waters can cause gastrointestinal problems and fevers in beachgoers.

Because of this, in 2016, Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) and the state’s District Health Department #10 (DHD #10) requested the help of Ferris researchers in studying Billings Lake water quality. In collaboration with DHD #10 and Wexford County Drain Commissioner Mike Solomon, EGLE has supported Ferris research efforts with equipment and funding for the research. 

“The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) is also linked into this research,” Pike said.” We have used a PCR (polymerase chain reaction)-based method they are developing to assess E. coli levels.” 

The PCR-based method the EPA has in development gives same-day results, rather than the next-day results of older methods, so contaminated beaches can be closed the same day high E. coli levels are sampled rather than by next-day findings from assay methods. Under the U.S. EPA, Michigan EGLE formed a consortium five years ago of Michigan universities, including Ferris, and government laboratories to help validate this method. In the summer of 2019, Michigan became the first state permitted by the U.S. EPA to use this new method to close beaches for elevated E. coli levels.

“We are very pleased that our PCR testing method can offer a more rapid reaction to changing conditions, which means ‘no-swim orders’ can be put in place and removed, as readings reach unsafe levels,” Pike added. Similarly, we can clear these waterways for use when figures go back below the threshold.”

Billings Lake is a 20-acre waterway fed by Manton Creek, known as Cedar Creek in that community, and is a tributary to the Manistee River. According to research reports, the lake has a maximum depth of eight feet and an average depth of three-and-a-half feet. Pike said the lake, which has a private campground and municipal property and residential lots on its shores, continues to receive study by various contributors.

“The Shimadzu Core Laboratory, in collaboration with the Michigan EGLE consortium has recently published a paper on this new testing methodology,” Pike said. “We are planning future publications as well.”

Pike concluded that while the efforts to this point have yielded positive results they continue to work toward a specific solution in Wexford County.

“I look forward to future research at Billings Lake to determine the source of this E. coli,” Pike said. “I am excited about the potential for bettering public health through this new PCR-based U.S. EPA method, and I am absolutely thrilled at the potential these collaborations with federal and state agencies and sister universities brings to further the place of Ferris in the Michigan academic community and the potential if affords our students, for their future careers.”