Another rain storm, another beach closure? SAVE THE SOUND hopes a new tool—the Sound Health Explorer—will inspire beachgoers to change that. Each day, the interactive tool developed by this nonprofit culls data from the EPA and other sources to grade a beach’s health for safe swimming. The rankings are eye-opening. Over the past year, Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk flunked safe swimming standards 16 percent of the time to earn a C. In Darien, Pear Tree Point Beach also scored C. It might be a better idea to head to Cove Island Park in Stamford, where the beaches earned an A+. Tracy Brown of Save the Sound encourages locals to contact legislators when water quality isn’t up to snuff, as the fix could be easier than you think. She elaborates here.
WHY DOES WHAT WE FLUSH END UP IN THE SOUND?
Many sewage plants in the area remove the solids, chlorinate the pathogens to kill them, then dichlorinate before releasing it all into the water. “Because of geography, the eastern part of the Sound gets flushed by the Atlantic, but the western end gets all clogged up,” says Brown. The big problem is nitrogen, the levels of which are high in human waste. In water, it causes hypoxia, or dead zones where fish can’t live. Says Brown, “It’s far worse in the western basin.”
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN IT RAINS?
Many waste-treatment systems are old and past the point of repair, Brown says. So are many sewage pipes under our streets. “You have these leaking pipes and septic systems. Add to that rain events that take garbage off our roads. If you have a beach located near a storm-water outfall, you’re getting a flush of waste.” All this bacteria is unsafe. “Someone who comes home with swimmer’s ear or G.I. distress was probably swimming in fecal-contaminated water,” says Brown.
YUCK! WHO WANTS TO GO IN THE WATER AGAIN?
“That’s not our message,” says Brown, who emphasizes that bacteria and nitrogen problems can be tackled. “We’ve launched this tool so people can look at local water-quality conditions and determine if they are getting better or worse. We’re trying to take something that’s invisible and make it visible for the public. A person’s view of the Sound is very localized. He’ll say, ‘It’s my beach.’ I think that personal connection will work in the Sound’s favor. We’d love for an A-rated beach to mean as much to the community as a great school district. We want to see that same pride of place.”
To check out rankings for your local beach:
For more information about how you can help save the sound: