Hallets Cove Still Needs Help

Film on the water at Hallets Cove. Photo by Erik Baard

Film on the water at Hallets Cove. Photo by Erik Baard

HarborLAB is sad to relay the news from CUNY LaGuardia Community College that bacteria counts remain elevated days after the New York City Housing Authority capped open drains that allow sewage to discharge from the Astoria Houses into Hallets Cove. As we noted earlier, there’s no “silver bullet” to raising water quality. Dogs and birds frequently defecate on the beach. HarborLAB photographed paw prints and birds yesterday afternoon. As the NYC Department of Environmental Protection noted, wild birds can’t be effectively managed.

Most parts of the estuary suffer fecal bacteria when rain causes combined sewer channels to overflow. Hallets Cove is blighted even in dry weather. Here’s this month’s observed rainfall.

We as a community must sample the water and sand further (HarborLAB will do this in the colder months), work with NYCDEP and CUNY LaGuardia Community College for regular testing, and institute both basic and innovative mitigation measures. HarborLAB need volunteer samplers to keep a neighborhood watch on Hallets Cove water quality. Please email volunteer@harborlab.org with the subject line, “Hallets Cove.”

Here are questions HarborLAB posed to scientists with the NYC Department of Environmental Protection and CUNY in an email conversation that included Rob Buchanan of the NYC Water Trail Association, which coordinates water sampling throughout the harbor:

1) Could such a prolonged exposure (referring to the NYCHA discharge) translate to a slower decline?
2) Could sand culturing of the bacteria cause it to persist?
3) How might activated effective microorganisms be used to mitigate this situation? Does the DEP have a research program or field implementation in place? Partners from the Permaculture movement are interested in contributing to such an effort.
4) How might we reduce dog defecation on the beach?

As measured by Dr. Sarah Durand’s lab at LaGuardia Community College, indicator bacteria counts were again in the “red zone” with183-197 CFU (colony forming units) per 100 ml of water. Observing over 104 enterococci per 100 ml in salt water indicates that an area is unacceptable for swimming, according the the US Environmental Protection Agency. From the EPA website:

What levels of indicator bacteria are considered acceptable?

Based on studies conducted in the 1980s, EPA has determined that a geometric mean (a measure of an overall average) in samples from recreational waters of less than 126 E. coli per 100 milliliters (ml) of fresh water or 35 enterococci per 100 ml of salt water is acceptable for protection of swimming. The geometric mean should be calculated from more than five samples within the previous 30 days. If a single sample exceeds 235 E. coli per 100 ml in freshwater and 104 enterococci per 100 ml in salt water, EPA recommends that the beach be closed, or posted, for swimming until levels are lower. (Some states, such as New Hampshire and Vermont, recommend that advisories be posted at more protective levels of indicator bacteria.) Because elevated fecal indicator bacteria are often associated with storm water runoff, some agencies post beaches preemptively if rainfall exceeds a set amount, based on site-specific studies.

durandtests

Contaminated samples fluoresce under UV light due to a chemical reaction between bacterial excretions and a laboratory agent. Photo by Dr. Sarah Durand, PhD, CUNY LaGuardia Community College.

There are no universal health standards for water quality restrictions on such high-water contact activities as introductory sit-on-top kayaking. Even without falling in, children and adults engage in splashing and have frequent hand-to-mouth and hand-to-eye transference of water. Children and adults do fall in (this is normal, but shouldn’t be risked in fouled water) , and after hours children do wade, swim, make sandcastles at Hallets Cove. It’s reasonable to believe that public boating might encourage children and families to believe the water is acceptable.

Sand is more of a concern than was believed in previous generations. Some useful links:

“Microbial Load from Animal Species at a Recreational Beach”

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2771205/

“Fecal Bacteria May Be Hiding in Beach Sand”

http://www.care2.com/causes/fecal-bacteria-may-be-hiding-in-beach-sand.html

“Bacteria Swarm Keeps Oceanfront Revelers Out of Water”

http://hamptonroads.com/2014/08/oceanfront-swimming-advisory-completely-lifted

paws

gulls

 

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