As the summer beach season moves into full swing, Save the Sound, a program of Connecticut Fund for the Environment, is calling attention to the number of days that Connecticut beaches had to be closed, or were under public advisories during 2012 due to environmental or related factors. The Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) annual “Testing the Waters” report, issued last week, found that Connecticut beaches were closed or under advisories for 198 days in 2012. That is down from 538 in 2011 but still more than twice the number of closings/advisories in 2010, 2009, or 2008.
According to the NRDC report, 22 percent of Connecticut’s closing/advisory days last year were due to monitoring that revealed elevated bacteria levels and 29 percent were preemptive due to heavy rainfall, which can overwhelm outdated stormwater systems and wash untreated sewage into rivers and the Sound. The remaining days were preemptive due to wildlife.
The beaches with the worst records for exceeding the state's daily maximum bacterial standard were Pear Tree Point Beach in Fairfield County and Seabluff Beach in New Haven County, which tested above the maximum 28 percent of the time; Oak Street B Beach in New Haven County at 20 percent; and Fairfield County’s Calf Pasture Beach, Weed Beach, and Rowayton Beach, all at 19 percent.
“When it comes to clean water, being ‘middle-of-the-pack’ is not good enough,” said Leah Schmalz, director of legislative and legal affairs for Save the Sound. “One out of every ten American citizens lives within an hour’s drive of Long Island Sound, and they deserve clean, safe beaches—even one closing because of bacteria and pollution is too many.”
“Just an inch of rain in 24 hours causes many local health departments around the Sound to shut down beaches. Drought conditions may provide the perfect beach weather—no rain means no contamination from stormwater runoff—but we can’t rely on Mother Nature to do our pollution control for us. If we want to enjoy our coastline, eat local seafood, and promote tourism along the shore, rain or shine, we have to be proactive. That means stopping pollution at the source by upgrading our sewage treatment plants, separating the combined sewer overflows that dump almost two billion gallons of untreated sewage into our waterways each year, and investing in innovative stormwater runoff solutions like drain filters and green infrastructure.”
By comparison, the same NRDC report found that Westchester County in New York lost 112 beach days in 2012, and that New York State ranked 22nd out of 30 states, up from 24th in 2011.
Two Westchester County beaches had the first- and third-worst records in the state for the number of water samples that exceeded the state bacterial standard. Bacterial levels at Shore Acres Club in Mamaroneck tested above the standard fully 50 percent of the time, and Surf Club in New Rochelle exceeded 35 percent of the time. Overall, Westchester County beach samples exceeded the standard 14 percent of the time, making Westchester the fourth-worst tested county in New York. Bronx County, which also affects water quality in the western Sound, came in at number three.
Save the Sound issues weekly Sound Swim Alerts for Connecticut and Westchester County to inform residents when beaches are open for swimming and when they are closed. The alerts can be found on Save the Sound’s blog.