Beaches

Citizen Science Pathogen Monitoring in the NY/NJ Harbor Estuary Watershed

By Jim Ferretti

NY/NJ Baykeeper Lab

NY/NJ Baykeeper Lab

What’s the deal with bacteria?
Bacteria (along with soil erosion/runoff, and nutrients including nitrogen and phosphorus) are the leading types of pollution in our nation’s waterways. Pathogenic, or disease-causing microorganisms are associated with fecal waste and can cause a variety of diseases (typhoid, cholera, Cryptosporosis, etc) either through ingestion/contact with contaminated water or ingestion of shellfish. Not all bacteria are harmful (yogurt contains live bacteria cultures), but the presence of some indicator bacteria such as fecal coliforms and enterococci are a clue that potentially more harmful bacteria and viruses may be present in the water as well.

There are many different types of general pathogens that are dangerous to humans, including bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. Measuring all of these potential harmful organisms is not practical, cost effective, and measuring methods are often complicated. Instead, specific surrogate bacteria (i.e., Fecal Coliforms, E. coli, and Enterococcus sp) that can be cultured or detected easily and can be related to the risk of human illness are used as “indicator” bacteria, because their presence indicates that fecal contamination may have occurred. The higher the number of indicator bacteria would increase the risk of finding increasingly more harmful assemblages of more harmful types of organisms in the water.

Common sources of bacteria in surface waters are from combined sewers (which can overflow in a rainstorm and dump untreated sewage directly into our waters) and runoff of animal waste (including wild animal droppings) from farmland and city streets.

Indicator Bacteria and Citizen Science
During the summer months, bacteria concentrations are measured at least once a week at most of our New Jersey and New York bathing beaches. There are many other waterways that are used for boating, fishing and even swimming that are also susceptible to bacterial contamination. Citizen scientists offer a great resource to fill data gaps, produce data that will be usable by the states for assessment purposes, engage their community and raise awareness of potential environmental issues.

There are a few common types of laboratory tests that are performed to measure bacteria, such as growing them on a filter, growing them in test tubes, or growing them in special trays until a color endpoint is observed. Many of these tests are outside the technical expertise of many citizen science groups.

Site Map of the NY/NJ Harbor Watershed Area used for the Citizen Science Pathogen Study

Site Map of the NY/NJ Harbor Watershed Area used for the Citizen Science Pathogen Study

The EPA has been involved in Citizen Science since 1988 (formally called Volunteer Monitoring). The number of Citizen Science groups across the nation and particularly in our region has risen sharply in recent years. In an effort to empower citizens in their community through collection of high quality data, the EPA has recently been involved in a technical role in a Citizen Science Pathogen (Bacteria) Study involving two citizen science groups from New York (Bronx River Alliance and Sparkill Creek Watershed Alliance) and two from New Jersey (Friends of the Bonsal Preserve and the NY/NJ Baykeeper). The goal of this grant based program from the Harbor Estuary Program and administered through the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission was to train citizen science groups, assist them in preparation of a Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) or a plan that details all facets of their study, provide equipment and testing guidance manuals, perform on-site lab and field assessments, and provide a means to enter data into the national water quality data repository, WQX (formerly STORET).

Citizen Science Equipment Loan Program
Not only is this project important to the communities that are involved, this effort has provided the framework for future citizen science groups to conduct similar projects. Citizen scientists and communities may use the existing Quality Assurance Project Plan, Field and Lab Data Sheets, Excel spreadsheets for reporting, and technical guidance documents for sampling and analysis from this project that can be readily modified to fit their own pathogen monitoring program.

Another major hurdle for many citizen based science groups is the cost of equipment needed to collect the data. The cost for the lab equipment for a group to start a pathogen and water quality program similar to the one describe here is approximately $10,000. This cost is prohibitive to many citizen science groups so EPA is in the process of establishing an equipment loan program. The equipment loan program will offer citizen science organizations the opportunity to conduct water quality and/or pathogen studies with the benefit of borrowing on a short term basis (three to four months) lab equipment (incubators and sealers) and field equipment (water quality parameter meters and GPS units) plus the available technical documents (QAPP, testing guidance, and datasheets). Minus the cost of equipment, the actual per test cost for measuring bacteria is approximately $5-6 per sample.

So, prepare your QAPP, enroll in the equipment loan program, and have your group get out there and monitor!

About the Author: Jim Ferretti is a team leader for the Sanitary Chemistry and Biology Team for the Laboratory Branch in the EPA’s Division of Environmental Science and Assessment. He has a Master’s Degree in Environmental Science from Rutgers University and a BS Degree in Water Analysis Technology from California University of PA. Jim has a diversified background in environmental studies and biological laboratory testing. He has been employed at the EPA since 1990, starting out in the water program in headquarters and moving to New Jersey in 1992.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Protecting Americans’ Health at the Beach

You may have read my post on July 3 about EPA’s work to protect swimmers at America’s beaches. Protecting public health is a top priority for EPA, and I want to let you know about an updated guidance document we recently published to support this priority. We developed the National Beach Guidance and Required Performance Criteria for Grants, 2014 Edition to help state, territorial and tribal governments do a better job at keeping beaches safe for swimming. We worked with these partners to make sure that the guidance included workable requirements while also better protecting the health of beachgoers.

Putting in Place Safer Standards for Recreational Waters

There are 38 states, territories, and tribes on our coasts or around the Great Lakes that are eligible for federal grants under the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act). Since 2001, EPA has made available nearly $130 million to help those governments monitor recreational waters and notify the public of beach advisories or closures. In order to receive the grants, eligible governments must meet the performance criteria we establish.
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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Helping Make Our Estuaries “Climate-Ready”

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By Mellissa Brosius EPA works with coastal managers to assess climate change vulnerabilities, develop and implement adaptation strategies, and engage and educate stakeholders

By Mellissa Brosius
EPA works with coastal managers to assess climate change vulnerabilities, develop and implement adaptation strategies, and engage and educate stakeholders

By Ashley Brosius

For as far back as I can remember, my family has vacationed at our beach house in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The house sits just one block from the beach and abuts the channel, so we have gorgeous views on all sides of the wraparound porch.

As I grew up, my personal interests in the natural environment led me to my professional pursuits in environmental protection. Working with the EPA Climate Ready Estuaries program continues to drive home the need to adapt to our changing climate, such as adjusting to rising water levels. Taking action is especially important in low lying coastal communities like the one that includes my family beach home. My mother often speaks of leaving the house to me some day, but I wonder if it will still be standing in 15-20 years.

Yet, my work with Climate Ready Estuaries has been encouraging. Our team works with the National Estuary Program and coastal managers to figure out where climate change could cause problems, create plans to handle them, and educate everyone affected. National Estuary Program staff are already out there working with coastal communities so they can better adapt and become more resilient to the myriad of potential impacts of climate change. For example, the work being done by the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program is helping to raise awareness of regional climate impacts. The San Juan Bay Estuary Program is working to limit climate impacts by estimating vulnerabilities. There are also many regional and city-specific adaptation efforts underway, like the Southeast Florida regional climate change compact and New York City’s adaptation plan.

But, most encouraging of all are the efforts underway to make progress on the White House Climate Action Plan. These local projects will receive guidance and resources from programs like the one I work on every day. I know the likelihood is slim that our family vacation home will still be standing 250 years from now. At least I know that our country is taking steps to preserve the broader community and make it more resilient for the tough road ahead.

This year, go make some memories of your own by celebrating the 25th anniversary of National Estuaries Day on September 28, 2013!

About the author: Ashley Brosius is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education participant working in EPA’s office of water in the Climate Ready Estuaries program.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Gift from the Sea

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Phil Colarusso

“Let’s go to the beach,” my wife said hopefully. I looked out the window at the dark threatening skies and hesitated. It was Labor Day, and the last hours of summer were quickly running out. As I have gotten older, the end of summer has become a melancholy time for me. More so than birthdays, summers mark the passage of time for me. Labor Day brings the end of another summer and the prospect of another long New England winter. “All right, let’s take a chance,” I replied.

 

Photo curtsey of NOAA/NEFSC/PSB.

Photo courtesy of NOAA/NEFSC/PSB.

We arrived at a completely deserted beach. Apparently, all the other potential beachgoers looked at the sky and opted to stay home. We had a three-mile stretch of sandy beach virtually to ourselves – no walkers, no swimmers, no boaters, just us and the seagulls.

Halfway down the beach, I looked out to the water and saw a dog swimming towards us. We stopped and watched, and as it got closer we realized our “dog” was actually a harbor seal. It came ashore and wriggled up above the water line a mere 20 feet away from us. Three miles of deserted beach, and this seal chose to beach itself at our feet.

The seal eyed us suspiciously for a moment, then deeming us to be harmless, closed its eyes and went to sleep. Harbor seals routinely come ashore to rest and regulate their body temperature. Seals are capable of sleeping underwater or bobbing at the surface, but those are only catnaps. To get any real rest, they need to emerge from the sea away from predators.

Photo curtsey of NOAA/NEFSC/PSB.

Photo courtesy of NOAA/NEFSC/PSB.

A few raindrops began to fall and it was time to make a run for the car. The seal sensed our movement and looked in our direction as we began to reverse our course. I looked back at the lone figure on the deserted beach and I swear he gave me a nod as if to say, “see you next summer.”

At the exit point of the beach is a sign that reads “Take Just What You Need.” On this last day of summer, my wife and I got just what we needed: a gift from the sea to sustain our spirits through the next long New England winter.

Editor’s Note: All marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. This law makes it illegal to touch, disturb, feed or otherwise harass marine mammals without authorization.

More information if you encounter a seal or another marine animal on a beach in New England is available from the New England Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Team.

More information on seals found in New England is available from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

About the author: Phil Colarusso is a marine biologist in the Coastal and Ocean Protection Section of EPA New England, and is an avid diver. He’s living the dream in Wenham with wife JoAnn, two kids, dog and white picket fence.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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King Tides and Sea Level Rise, Part 3

By Paul Cough

Growing up near the Kennebec River in Maine, I could see the tide rise and fall every day. Today, as Director of EPA’s Oceans and Coastal Protection Division, the oceans, coasts and coastal communities are always on my mind.

More and more, coastal communities are becoming aware of the effects of  climate changeExit EPA Disclaimer such as sea level rise and its impacts on beaches, estuaries and infrastructure.

When people go outside and see how the “king tide” – the highest tide of the year is flooding their favorite places, they are getting a glimpse of future sea levels.

Because the sea is rising, flood levels that are reached now just once a year will eventually become the high tide level on a typical day.

We also put out a call for photos of king tides on EPA’s State of the Environment Photography Project to help people in government and your neighbors and friends see and think about what sea level rise will mean. If coastal places are
flooding just from high tide now, then the rising sea levels expected in the coming years and decades present even greater challenges.

At EPA, we have been urging people to plan for climate change impacts. We all want safe and sustainable places where social, economic, and environmental conditions are in harmony – now and in the future.

The photographs of tides flowing out of storm drains, flooded streets, and cars sitting in salt water show us that in many places, harmony is slipping away. Earlier this summer, we talked about how Hurricane Sandy pushed a storm surge into a place that already floods from tides and how evidence of sea level rise can be seen well over 100 miles inland from the ocean.

Planning for the impacts of climate change and sea level rise is essential if we are to preserve the coastal places we all know and love. For more information about climate change adaptation, please visit the Climate Ready Estuaries program
website.

About the author: Paul Cough is the director of EPA’s Oceans and Coastal Protection Division in the Office of Water

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Getting an Up Close Look at Innovative Solutions in Seattle

By Nancy Stoner

Earlier this month, I spent several days in Seattle meeting with EPA’s staff that work on water policies and programs in the Pacific Northwest. In addition to our meetings, they took me to visit the High Point housing development in West Seattle. High Point is a mixed income Seattle Housing Authority community that has lovely views of the city center, is highly walkable and features natural stormwater drainage designs that give the development a beautiful visual appearance and virtually no polluted runoff. Working with municipalities to address stormwater issues, which can vary greatly across the country, is a priority for EPA.

The natural drainage at High Point is not only filled with blooming flowers and greenery that make it a desirable neighborhood for home buyers, but it has performed much better than anticipated to limit pollution flowing into downstream waters that empty into Puget Sound.

My visit to Seattle also included a tour of Puget Sound, one of the most ecologically diverse ecosystems in North America. EPA works closely with state, local, federal and tribal partners to protect and restore the sound through the Puget Sound Partnership. We traveled out to Commencement Bay to see former Superfund sites that are now being developed for mixed uses. Nearby beaches are trash-free thanks to frequent community cleanups.  It was great to see that area come back to life, not just economically, but also for the bald eagles, sea lions, seals and ducks that were also enjoying the cool spring day.

My trip to Seattle ended with a visit to the stormwater research lab at Washington State University.  They have some exciting research underway on how to clean highway runoff to protect salmon. The Pacific Northwest is, of course, known worldwide for its salmon fisheries. Salmon are quite sensitive to water pollution, and the Pacific Northwest has made great strides in protecting water quality and habitat using natural drainage systems, transfer of development rights programs and many other efforts.

We talk a lot about finding innovative solutions here at EPA—we recently released a blueprint for integrating technology innovation into EPA’s national water program—so it was especially heartening to see all of the progressive work happening in Seattle to address key environmental issues in the Pacific Northwest.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Adapting to Sea Level Rise in Delaware: Your Chance to Engage in the Discussion

By Christina Catanese

 

Are you curious about how sea level rise will affect the beach towns you visit in the summer, and how coastal communities can adapt to these impacts?  If you’re in the Delaware area, you’ll have this opportunity in the coming weeks.

Impact of Sea Level Rise Scenarios on Mid Atlantic Coastal Wetland areas

Impact of Sea Level Rise Scenarios on Mid Atlantic Coastal Wetland areas

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources is holding a series of public engagement sessions to give residents a chance to hear more about Delaware’s vulnerability to sea level rise and adaptation strategies that the state can take.  DNREC invites the public to ask questions, discuss potential options, and provide feedback at these sessions.  There will be displays, presentations, and discussion – get a preview and more information on this page.

Yesterday’s session in Lewes, DE kicked off this series, but there are still two opportunities to attend:

February 19, 4-7 p.m.

New Castle Middle School

903 Delaware Street

New Castle, DE 19720

February 25, 4-7 p.m.

Kent County Levy Court

555 Bay Road (Rt. 113)

Dover, DE 19901

For more information on ecosystem impacts of climate change in the First State, you can also learn more about how the Delaware Estuary is preparing for climate change through the Climate Ready Estuaries program.

Not a Delaware resident?  You can still learn more about the Impacts of Sea Level Rise, other climate change science, and look out for similar opportunities where you live.  The impacts of climate change will vary by region – check out climate impacts in the Northeastern U.S. and in the Mid-Atlantic Region here.  What is your community doing to get ready?

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Breaking the Ice

By Cameron Davis

Midwesterners as a general rule are a friendly bunch. They don’t gripe much. Even harsh winters—for which the region is legendary—typically draw commentary, not complaints.

So while recent temperatures are eliciting lots of opinions on city streets and in offices, one thing that’s not drawing as many comments is Great Lakes water levels. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lakes Michigan and Huron (hydrologically counted as the same lake) reached record low levels in December, the lowest recorded levels since the previous record, in 1964.

Warmer air temps mean warmer water temperatures, both of which mean falling lake levels. Warmer water temperatures mean the Great Lakes don’t get as much ice in winter time. Ice seals in water and reduces evaporation.

‘So what?’ you might ask because most people don’t use their coasts in wintertime.

Though lower levels may mean wider beaches for summer recreating, there are many other impacts that hurt recreation. Warmer water temperatures can mean more swimming advisories as conditions improve for harmful pathogens. Boats can have a more difficult time getting in and out of their ports as lake levels drop, which means more sediment can be stirred up when dredging needs to happen so boats can move. The list of impacts goes on.

Check out the Corps’ forecasts for yourself.

And, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a new “dashboard” to help you understand water.

Find out more about our Great Lakes restoration efforts, or follow me on Twitter (@CameronDavisEPA). If you missed out on Great Lakes Week and still have questions, feel free to ask them in the comment box or send me a tweet.

About the author: Cameron Davis is Senior Advisor to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. He provides counsel on Great Lakes matters, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Beach Awaits

By Trey Cody

Enjoying a day at the beach

When thinking of a beach threat, I typically think of jellyfish.  Once on a family beach vacation, my sister was stung by a jellyfish, and the memory has stuck with me since.  Some people on the other hand may think of crabs or sharks when asked about dangerous things at the beach.

But potentially the most harmful threat at the beach is one we cannot see: bacteria.  A majority of beach closings and advisories issued last year were due to elevated bacteria levels in the water.  An unusually elevated bacteria level in beach water is typically the result of uncontrolled human or animal waste. In wet weather events, stormwater runoff pollutes beach water by bringing bacteria along the way as it runs off through streets and through sewers. To protect the health of beachgoers, monitoring is conducted at many beaches, and advisories are posted to alert the public when it isn’t safe to swim because of high bacteria.

The good news is that for the seventh consecutive year, in 2011, the nation’s coastal and Great Lakes beaches were open and safe for swimming 95 percent of the time during the swimming season.

Beach water quality is a priority here at EPA. We work with state and local partners to control potential sources of pollution to the beaches.  For example, we help communities to build and properly operate sewage treatment plants, and implement a national storm water program and promote green infrastructure to reduce runoff and minimize sewer overflows.  On our Region III Beaches page, you can find out information on beach sampling data, beach closings and advisories, beach water quality standards, and much more!

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) uses data and information from EPA and the States to publish an annual report on the quality of beach water in the U.S.  It rates popular beaches and awards the ones with exceptionally low violation rates and strong testing and safety practices. Three of the Mid-Atlantic Region’s very own beaches have been particularly vigilant about minimizing the threats from bacteria.  Delaware’s Dewey and Rehoboth beaches and Maryland’s Ocean City at Beach 6 all received a 5-star rating from the NRDC.

At these beaches and many others in Region 3, national standards were not only met, but exceeded, making them some of the cleanest beaches in the country. So before the summer slips away, grab your swim suit, towel and sunscreen and head down to your favorite stretch of shoreline!  Share stories of your time at the beach this summer in our comments section, and contribute your photos to EPA’s State of the Environment Photo Project.

About the Author: Trey Cody has been an intern with EPA’s Water Protection Division since graduation from high school in 2010. He is currently attending the Pennsylvania State University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Investing in the Great Lakes: GLRI in 2011

By Cameron Davis

Over the last few weeks, we have announced million of dollars in funding for EPA-Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant investments across the Great Lakes basin. The only way the Great Lakes will be restored is through partner organizations and agencies doing their best work on the ground and in the water.

Lake Erie has been hit hard by harmful bacteria and algae, which can choke our beaches and threaten aquatic life, which according to some estimates can cost communities around Lake Erie up to $300,000 annually per beach closure. That’s why we made our first announcement in Toledo, Ohio. We highlighted work to build and maintain wetlands that capture phosphorus and other kinds of runoff that contribute to this problem, among other projects.

In Michigan, we’re tackling stormwater and working to open up the Boardman River, the largest dam removal and modification project of its kind. The completion of this project will reconnect hundreds of miles of river with Lake Michigan.

We’ve also announced grant investments in other Great Lake States to support efforts to fight invasive species, bring back habitat, and clean up Areas of Concern. This is the second year of the GLRI and we have already seen results but we can’t stop there.

You can find a project going on near you by visiting and using the interactive map on the home page. Feel free to share your thoughts with me about Great Lakes restoration in the comment box below. You can also find out more about our Great Lakes restoration efforts at the site listed above or by following me on Twitter (@CameronDavisEPA).

About the author: Cameron Davis is Senior Advisor to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. He provides counsel on Great Lakes matters, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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