This study quantified Escherichia coli (EC) and enterococci (ENT) in beach waters and dominant source materials, correlated these with ambient conditions, and determined selected EC genotypes and ENT phenotypes. Bathing-water ENT criteria were exceeded more frequently than EC criteria, providing conflicting interpretations of water quality. Dominant sources of EC and ENT were bird feces (10(8)/d/bird), storm drains (10(7)/d), and river water (10(11)/d); beach sands, shallow groundwater and detritus were additional sources. Beach-water EC genotypes and ENT phenotypes formed clusters with those from all source types, reflecting diffuse inputs. Some ENT isolates had phenotypes similar to those of human pathogens and/or exhibited high-level resistance to human-use antibiotics. EC and ENT concentrations were influenced by collection time and wind direction. There was a 48-72-h lag between rainfall and elevated EC concentrations at three southern shoreline beaches, but no such lag at western and eastern shoreline beaches, reflecting the influence of beach orientation with respect to cyclic (3-5 d) summer weather patterns. In addition to local contamination sources and processes, conceptual or predictive models of Great Lakes beach water quality should consider regional weather patterns, lake hydrodynamics, and the influence of monitoring method variables (time of day, frequency).