Safe to Swim? Elevated Bacteria Levels at NJ Beaches Not Unusual After Heavy Rain
Higher than normal bacteria levels leading to warnings and no swimming at several Jersey Shore beaches lately are not uncommon after heavy rains, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
NJDEP spokesman Larry Hajna explained that animal waste gets funneled from storm water discharge pipes into bodies of water, and that elevated bacteria levels are an issue typically in back bays and rivers used for recreational bathing.
"The water doesn't flush out that quickly and dilute like ocean water on the beaches," said Hajna.
County and local health departments conduct weekly water tests that detect elevated levels of bacteria and report the results to the NJDEP, according to Hajna. Lakes are not included in the NJDEP's Cooperative Coastal Monitoring Program. The owner of the lake conducts testing and reports to the county where its located, explained Hajna.
"The first step is to issue an advisory," Hajna said. If no improvement in the water quality is seen after further testing, then a closure is issued. Testing continues daily at beaches that are closed until the recreational bathing standard is met, according to Hajna.
"For the coastal beaches, it's a 104 enterococci units per liter of water," said Hajna. "The recreational bathing standard is a very conservative standard. What we're looking for in the test results is actually an indicator bacteria. It's not in an of itself harmful, but it can indicate that they're may be other bacteria or pathogens in the water that people should be aware of."
Heavy downpours in any given summer can result in elevated bacteria, some advisories and potentially some closures, but Hajna pointed out, "our beaches are open 99.9 percent of the time, and this is one of the best, if not the best record in the nation. We have a very aggressive and proactive monitoring program."
It also includes flights over the coast daily looking for potential issues, floating materials or even algae blooms that could be a problem, according to Hajna.
The NJDEP has an interactive website with water test results and daily updates that can be found here: https://njbeaches.org.