Monday, June 30, 2008

Beach Report: Is the Water Safe?

If you like to swim in salt water and you're wondering just how clean Long Island Sound's beaches are, you have to read yesterday's Hartford Courant story. Here are the money paragraphs:

... Though by and large they are well-groomed and well-managed, on any given summer day, dozens of swimming spots are just one good rainfall away from closing. The problem: storm water runoff that carries feces from wild animals or pets, and contaminants from highways, subdivisions, malls and farms into the water.

Over the last decade, swimmers lost at least 3,000 days to bacteria-related closings, based on The Courant's examination of 10 years of closure data for Long Island Sound beaches and state parks, and four years of records for other lakes and ponds.

And while it's hard to track how many people are getting sick as a result, federal officials say instances of water-born illness contracted in recreational waters are on the rise around the country.

Already this season, the 10 most affected areas have lost at least 45 swimming days to contamination.

Some areas have only occasional problems, and a few are virtually pristine — Hammonasset Beach State Park, the busiest in the state, has not had a closure in at least a decade, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. And beaches east of Fairfield County, including West Haven, have steadily improved.

But several areas continue to suffer persistent problems, and the problem does not discriminate by location or real estate value.

A lot of the beaches in the Courant study are inland. But here's what the authors -- David Funkhouser and Josh Kovner -- say about Sound beaches in Fairfield County.

Fairfield County beaches sit below land paved over with homes, malls, highways and industry: When it rains, instead of filtering through the soil, water is likely to run into storm drains and into the Sound, taking oils, dirt and other contaminants with it. Also, tides flush more lightly here than in the deeper, eastern end of the Sound, where contamination is less of a problem.

At the 144 beaches along the Connecticut coast that report testing data to the state, there were 65 closings for one or more days in 2007; 56 of those were in Fairfield County.

I think by the way that the Courant overstates the issue of people getting sick, not just because many beaches are closed preemptively but because they level of bacteria needed to close a beach is far, far lower than then amount of bacteria needed to make a person sick. Regardless, it's a good story, which everyone who goes to the beach on the Sound should read. Check it out here.

The Courant, by the way, is cutting its news staff by almost 60 jobs, from 232 to 175, which is bad news from Connecticut and the region.



Blogger Sam said...

Strange how it works ... here on our little island in Texas there were two hot spots for entero-bacteria, each located in front of large condo/hotels that were built in the late 1970's.

My understanding is that in the 1980's, the EPA required all the storm water culverts and pipes to be directed to settling boxes and thence to the bay, as opposed to flowing directly into the Gulf and the beaches.

These two hotels were "grandfathered" and we suspect that although the outfall pipes were not supposed to be used, they in fact were during the peak summer weekends - a double take on the word "over-flow." After physically removing the pipes, the water quality amazingly cleaned up.

Imagine that!

12:20 PM  

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