05/24/2012 09:34 am ET

Chicago Beaches' E. Coli Bans Eliminated: Park District Transitions To Bacteria 'Advisories'

This summer, Chicago beach-goers won't have to worry about being locked out of Lake Michigan's shores over water contamination.

The Chicago Park District announced that they will stop enacting swim bans when the beaches officially open for the season Friday, Fox Chicago reports. Instead, they plan to post bacteria advisories and let swimmers decide themselves how much risk they're willing to take on for a dip in the lake.

High E. coli levels led to 36 beach bans last summer and several Chicago-area beaches were identified as among the nation's most contaminated in a report released last year. Rising closures due to bacteria prompted the city to explore new avenues to keep more beaches open, including a pilot program that used Border Collies to chase away seagulls, whose waste is a primary source of water contamination.

But Park District officials say the closures were based on unreliable data and unnecessarily kept too many people off the city's shores for too long.

They're heralding a new system, funded by the same Environmental Protection Agency grant that paid for the seagull experiment, that will provide real-time water quality predictions, according to ABC Chicago. Until now, the data behind swim bans had an 18-hour lag.

"We are very excited about the new system of predicted modeling," Cathy Breitenbach, of the Chicago Park District, told ABC. "We'll be able to tell you what the water is like today instead of what the water is like yesterday when we last took a test."

The Park District will still ban swimming in certain conditions, including high waves, lightning, or when heavy rainfall releases sewage into the lake, CBS Chicago reports.

But when E. Coli levels are the problem, beach visitors can read real-time test results posted at 16 of the city's 24 swim beaches and decide for themselves, according to WGN.

Chicago's beaches officially open this Friday, and swim season runs through Sept. 3.