Virtual Beach

Virtual Beach is a free software program for Windows that enables coastal beach managers, public health professionals, and applied researchers to efficiently develop and operate water-quality models to inform beach-specific decisions on:

  • Whether to issue (or lift) swim advisories/closures on a given day 
  • What type of lab test (if any) to run on a given day 
  • Where and how to prioritize long-term remediation efforts


What is Virtual Beach?
Beaches provide coastal communities with substantial economic, social and health benefits. Along the U.S. Great Lakes coast, an estimated 8 million people visit beaches each year. Unfortunately, some information commonly used to evaluate water quality, communicate health risks and prioritize remediation efforts are 24 hours old, meaning swimmers can be swimming when conditions are not safe. Conversely, swimmers may be kept out of the water when no current problems exist. Virtual Beach (VB) addresses these shortcomings.


Should I Create A Model For My Beach?
A predictive water quality model is a tool that may work wonderfully for predicting bacteria levels at your beach while both REDUCING the number of bacteria samples you need to collect during the swim season and STILL protecting public safety. However, a predictive model is not an appropriate tool for every beach.  Using predictive water quality model for a beach has both PROS and CONS.
  • The model may predict bacteria levels at your beach more accurately than yesterday’s bacteria sample results.
  • Sampling costs may be reduced in the long run.
  • For beaches on the Great Lakes, additional weather and stream flow data may be available to allow for models to be created for use on non-sampling days so that predictions of bacteria levels at your beach could be made every day during the swim season.


  • The model building process can be time and money intensive
  • Explaining to the public that a beach is under advisory because of a model result is often more complicated than just stating a bacteria result is over a standard.
  • Models are not perfect and sometimes advisories will be issued when bacteria levels were low or not issued when bacteria levels are elevated.

Read more…



Virtual Beach Step-by-Step Training Modules

These video tutorials accompany the six training modules for the Virtual Beach software. The software is designed for developing site-specific statistical models for the prediction of pathogen indicator levels at recreational beaches.

Using actual data from a beach, the following modules, data files, Virtual Beach project files, and videos (to be updated soon) are intended to walk you through the Virtual Beach software. NOTE: The files contained in the zip files are Virtual Beach project files and can only be opened from within the Virtual Beach software.

2017 Chicago Workshop Presentations
In 2017, the Wisconsin Sea Grant conducted a 1-day workshop at the Chicago Parks District office on using Virtual Beach. Support for this workshop came from the Great Lakes Observing System (GLOS). The presentations from the workshop are below.
USGS Workshop Video Training

Workshops led by Wisconsin Sea Grant and the USGS Wisconsin Water Science Center titled Developing Predictive Models for your Beach: Hands-on Training, were recorded and are available below. The full training for building a complete model in Virtual Beach takes 10-12 hours.

‘EnDDaT’ Tool: Tips and Hints
The Environmental Data Discovery and Transformation (EnDDaT) is a service used to access data from multiple sources, compile and process the data, and perform common transformations. This tool was developed by the USGS and has the ability to be directly linked within Virtual Beach. Use these videos and tools to learn how to access, transform, and download historical and real-time Virtual Beach inputs (e.g., rainfall, tributary discharge, waves, and currents.
User Guides
Online Data Sources
To develop a VB model, one needs historical data on water quality (i.e., lab results) from two or more beach seasons, together with potentially related environmental conditions, such as stream discharge, antecedent rainfall, wave height, turbidity, waterfowl, etc…  Depending on the beach, many if not all of these data will be available online, for free.

Read more… 

Virtual Beach Users
Users Group
The Virtual Beach Users Group (VBUG) provides a forum for sharing best practices, trouble-shooting problems, and identifying priority needs.The VBUG listserv is intended to foster communication and mutual assistance among VB users. The list is moderated by Wisconsin Sea Grant and hosted by the Great Lakes Information Network.
A password-protected ‘Box’ account has been set up to provide users with a secure directory for sharing VB files with their collaborators. Typically too large to email, VB ‘project’ files include the beach-specific data and transformations used to build the model(s), as well as evaluation metrics and graphics, and the interface used to make predictions.
Best Practices for Operating and Maintaining Water-Quality Nowcasts

A list of commonly asked questions and suggestions for variables to use in building a VB model can be found in the document below: