The Surfrider Foundation's deep-seated Blue Water Task Force, driven by it's volunteers, has initiated 2010's water quality monitoring program. In conjunction with Surfrider Foundation's global dedication in protecting our world's oceans, beaches and waves, the BWTF provides the crucial data necessary to assess water quality and pollution issues on a local level. Gathering coastal water samples in a near shore environment on a regular basis, not only provides the data history needed to alert surfers, beach goers and officials in local communities of any health threatening hazards, but also gives the Surfrider Foundation the clout in working towards solutions.
This year's research began on the 23rd of January, followed by another testing on March 6th and continuing throughout the year with May 15th being the next scheduled testing. A total of 14 surf zones are tested each time water sampling is conducted. In our Ocean State, two bacteria groups are monitored, fecal coliforms and enterococci. The results from all Surfrider sites, stretching from Middletown's Third Beach, to the Harbor in Watch Hill, are compared to the Rhode Island Dept of Health's state standard for safe recreational contact. Any surf spot with a result that exceeds state standards, is deemed unsafe. Surfers, swimmers and beach goers should refrain from surfing/swimming in these areas until conditions return to acceptable levels. Click Beach Closures and Advisories for recent updates.
Total coliforms are bacteria found throughout nature. They can occur in human feces, but can also be found in animal manure, soil, decaying wood and other areas on the human body.
Fecal coliforms are a subset of total coliforms bacteria that are fecal specific. However, the bacteria can also contain a genus not necessarily fecal in origin. This genus, Klebsiella, is commonly associated in discharge from textile and pulp mills. This is the reason why fecal coliforms is used as an indicator for drinking water standards.
Enterococci are bacteria that are commonly associated with sewage contamination and are more human specific. They indicate the possible presence of pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria and viruses that can cause a wide range of health hazards such as gastroenteritis, dysentery, hepatitis and other ear, nose, throat and respiratory problems. Enterococci also have an ability to survive in salt water, which is why the Environmental Protection Agency has enterococci as the best indicator for beach/ocean recreation.
Since 2004, the RIDOH created enterococci standards for swimming in Rhode Island's beaches. The Rhode Island Dept of Environmental Management continues to monitor fecal coliforms in marine waters as required by the National Shelfish Sanitation Program.
When speaking with Lauren Russo, coordinator of the BWTF, she stated, "The results from both January and March's testing were in compliance with state standards for safe water recreation." However, areas that are prone to contamination, historically, areas close to rain induced stormwater run-off and combined sewer overflows, effluent from wastewater treatment plants, or stormwater pipes (such as Burnside Pipe, Ocean Road Pipe and Black Point Pipe) have exceeded standards and are under the watchful eye of the Blue Water Task Force. These surf zones are area's such as Newport's First beach, Monahan's Dock in Narragansett, Scarborough State Beach and the Watch Hill Harbor.
Unfortunately, many older cities, especially in New England, Providence included, use a single sewer system called a combined sewer system. During dry periods, wastewater is treated and released as clean effluent. During rain events, however, the combined sewer system becomes overloaded and, as a result, untreated combined sewage is discharged, eventually making its way to the Narragansett Bay. This has been happening since the turn of the century.
A similar scenario happened in Fall River, Ma. in February of 2010 when the Central Street pumping station failed to transfer raw sewage to the treatment plant and instead pumped 2.5 million gallons into the Mount Hope Bay within the Battleship Cove area.
To put the accidental spill in perspective, one Olympic size pool is equivalent to 630,000 gallons. Now add three more pools next to it, all four of them full of raw sewage. Over a period of eleven hours, this was how much was released into the Bay.
The EPA estimates that combined sewer systems overflow 43,000 times per year, discharging 850 billion gallons of untreated waste into our waters.
Green infrastructure is the single most important avenue available for support in congress to rectify sewer system problems. Please see article Ocean legislature for 2010 and click here to send a letter to Congress in support of Green Infrastructure.