Elevated bacteria levels were found at these New jersy bay beaches last summer, report says

A report released Thursday by a New Jersey environmental group found there were 35 days last summer when swimming was unsafe across 11 different beaches in the state, mostly at bayside beaches. The report, released by Environment New Jersey, identified hotspots where levels of the bacteria Enterococci exceeded the accepted level of 104 Enterococci/100 mL and triggered action by the state last year.

The state Department of Environmental Protection takes weekly water samples at 18 bayside, seven river and 188 oceans beaches protected by lifeguards. When a sample exceeds the standard, an advisory is issued and daily sampling is done until the sample result is within safe levels again. Closures are issued if two consecutive daily samples exceed the standard, or sometimes preemptively if there’s rain in the forecast.

At the top of Environment New Jersey’s list of beaches with the highest number of bacteria exceedances is 5th Avenue Bay Front beach in Seaside Park, which went over the standard 14 times in 2020 and was closed 12 times, according to the report. Also on the list were:

Long Beach Township’s Bay Beach: 4 exceedances
Surf City’s Bay Beach: 4 exceedances
Wildwood City’s Bennett Avenue Beach: 3 exceedances
Lavallette’s Brooklyn Ave. Bay Beach: 3 exceedances
Sea Isle City’s 34th St. Beach: 2 exceedances
Cape May City at Congress: 2 exceedances
Atlantic City at St. James: 1 exceedance
Long Beach Township at Loveladies Lane: 1 exceedance
Long Beach Township at Stockton: 1 exceedance
Beachwood Beach West at Beachwood: 1 exceedance (Beachwood Beach was closed last July to “conduct pollution source tracking and extensive sampling” after exceeding the standard for 9 days total, according to the DEP).

The report used data published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the group said.

Ocean water quality has greatly improved since the 1980s, when there were hundreds of closures in Monmouth County alone, said Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action. However, she said, bays and rivers now account for the bulk of bacteria exceedances, mainly due to rainfall that leads to storm-water run-off and pollution entering swimming areas.

“We do have very high water quality, with one caveat, as long as it doesn’t rain. That is where some of the failures of the system need to be improved,” Zipf said.

The DEP collected almost 37,300 water samples from the ocean, bays and rivers between 2010 and 2018, and of those, 97% met the recreational bathing standard, said Bruce Friedman, director of the DEP’s Division of Water Monitoring and Standards, pointing to what he says is an overall high water quality along the shore. About 98% of ocean water samples met the standard during that time frame, and 90% of river and bay samples, he said.

One problem spot in 2020 noted in Environment New Jersey’s report was 5th Avenue Bay Front Beach in Seaside Park, where, according to the report, exceedances first began last summer on August 17. The DEP found that wildlife was likely the source of the elevated levels.

Mayor John Peterson Jr. believes a newly-installed stormwater pumping station may have also contributed to the high bacteria levels. The beach is along Barnegat Bay, and much less frequented by the public than Seaside Park’s ocean beaches.

“We suspect (it) is related to the state’s newly installed stormwater pumping stations. We have reached out to all of the agencies involved and environmental groups for assistance and would welcome a collaborative effort to solving the problem. This beach is used by our children and has never had these problems prior to the Route 35 project,” Seaside Park Mayor John A. Peterson Jr. said in a statement.

Bays see more exceedances than oceans because they are closed systems, Friedman said. Tides from the ocean flush water in and out of the bays, but it can take a while for water to cycle out and be replaced. For example, he said, DEP modeling has shown that it can take up to 28 days for water to flush out of Barnegat Bay.

When it rains, stormwater run-off from pet or wildlife waste or other sources could enter the bay system, introducing higher levels of bacteria, he said.

“If we have a rain event in the ocean, it usually doesn’t persist for very long because the tide cycle usually resolves itself within one tide cycle, whereas in a back bay system, it may take two or three days for that (rain) water to be replaced with cleaner ocean water,” Friedman said.

For that reason, Zipf says the state should test more than once a week, and in particular, after rain events.

Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, said building green infrastructure can lower the number of exceedances, particularly around Barnegat Bay in Ocean County, where a boom in development in surrounding towns has lead to more pollution in water that enters the rivers and then flushes into the bay.

In addition, he said, money should be dedicated to upgrading decades-old storm water retention basins in the bay and other infrastructure to prevent run-off pollution and sewage overflows.

On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Water Quality Protection Act, which authorizes $40 billion over five years for a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program that provides communities with low-cost financing for clean water infrastructure projects.

“One of the reasons we’ve seen, you know, the increased contamination in the Barnegat Bay is because we’ve been loving the shore to death from a development perspective,” he said. “Ongoing development in the Barnegat Bay watershed, over the course the last three and a half decades, has been a mess… Obviously we can’t reverse development, but we can do more to catch that pollution before it ends up in the bay.”

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