Citizen Science Task Force Analyzes Local Water Quality, Releases Report

Long Beach in Noyac as seen on June 25, 2018. Christine Sampson photo

Water testing performed in 2017 by a citizen science task force at more than 50 East End ocean beaches, bays, harbors, ponds and other coastal areas showed higher-than-usual bacteria levels growing during summer months and appearing after rainfall as well as higher levels of bacteria in bodies of water that experience little to no tidal flushing.

The Blue Water Task Force, the citizen science arm of the Surfrider Foundation Eastern Long Island Chapter, partnered with Concerned Citizens of Montauk and Peconic Baykeeper to test and analyze area waters for the presence of enterococcus, a coliform bacteria that indicates the presence of fecal pollution from humans and animals that can contain harmful pathogens.

The task force considered 104 colony-forming units of enterococcus per 100 milliliters of water as the baseline of “zero” for testing. Anything more than that was considered to be high to some degree.

Sag Harbor’s Havens Beach on average was found to exceed that baseline by 3 percent, based on 29 samples, while Long Beach in Noyac exceeded it on average by 7 percent based on 27 samples. Noyac’s Circle Beach exceeded the threshold by 22 percent. Big Fresh Pond in North Sea was 4 percent over the high bacteria limit on average, while Little Fresh Pond in North Sea was 63 percent over the limit, both based on 27 samples. Sagg Main Beach was 4 percent over the limit based on 27 samples. Several Southampton town and village sites were at or below the threshold, including Gin Lane, Old Town Beach, Meschutt Beach, Scott Cameron Beach and Tiana Bay Park.

In East Hampton, none of the ocean beaches tested came in at the acceptable level for enterococcus bacteria. Ditch Plains was at 7 percent over the threshold, based on 29 samples, Third Jetty Beach at Georgica Beach Association was at 4 percent over, based on 25 samples and Surfside Place was at 3 percent over, based on 30 samples. The Route 27 kayak launch at Georgica Pond tested high by 20 percent over the threshold, based on 25 samples. Napeague Harbor, Lake Montauk Harbor and Soundview Drive Beach all came in at or below the threshold.

In East Hampton Village, the bioswale on the village green exceeded the high bacteria limit by 100 percent, but the report says it is to be expected. That’s because a bioswale is an organic stormwater runoff management mechanism that is meant to catch bacteria before it enters the groundwater system.

Colleen Henn, who coordinates Surfrider’s Eastern Long Island Chapter, said the results “aren’t exactly a surprise to us.”

“To people who are visiting and who might not know that much about water quality and what affects it, it might come as a surprise,” Ms. Henn said. “Given the different types of water bodies and all of the factors that can affect them, our trends are very self evident in the results that we got in 2017 and that we’ve been getting the last five years.”

The report notes it is prudent to avoid swimming between 24 and 48 hours after a heavy rainfall, especially in ponds and enclosed bays and lakes.