Maine beaches receive low marks
Sometimes a day at the beach is no day at the beach. A new water quality report from the Natural Resources Defense Council indicates beaches all across Maine, including in Scarborough, recorded higherthan acceptable bacteria counts in 2012.
In fact, the study, “Testing the Waters: A Guide for Water Quality at Vacation Beaches,” ranks Maine 27th of 30 states in terms of beach water quality.
“Our nation’s seashores continue to suffer from storm water runoff and sewage pollution that can make people sick and harm coastal economies,” stated Melissa Waage of the Natural Resources Defense Council in a press release announcing the findings. “Luckily, today more than ever, we know that much of this filth is preventable, and we can turn the tide against water pollution.
“By establishing better beach water quality standards and putting untapped 21st century solutions in place, we can make a day at the beach as carefree as it should be, and safeguard America’s vital tourism economies.”
Ferry Beach, a sandy beach along the Scarborough River, was among the beaches in Maine with the most water samples that exceeded the state’s acceptable bacterial level of 104 colonies/100 ml.
Other such beaches included: Goodies Beach in Rockport; Riverside Beach in Ogunquit; Laite Beach in Camden; Short Sands Beach in York and Crescent Beach in Kittery.
According to the study’s findings, nearly a quarter of Ferry Beach’s 17 water samples exceeded the standard.
This led to four water quality advisories last year. Higgins Beach had six advisories last year, but only eight percent of its 74 water samples exceeded the standard. Pine Point Beach had no advisories, even though 6 percent of its 16 water samples exceeded appropriate levels.
Perhaps Scarborough’s healthiest beach, Scarborough Beach, located on Black Point Road, had no water samples exceed acceptable bacteria levels.
Keri Kaczor, of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and the coordinator of the Maine Healthy Beaches Program, said Maine beaches compare unfavorably because beach water quality is only measured in the summer months, meaning beaches have a much smaller sample size than those in California or Florida, where beaches are monitored year-round.
“When you have a small sample size, any exceedance will be amplified as a result,” Kaczor said.
Scarborough Community Services Recreation Manager Bill Reichl said much of the water quality issues occur when the area receives a lot of rain.
“Most of it tends to be from rainwater,” Reichl said. “If we get a lot of rain it affects the water quality, especially at Ferry Beach because everything tends to run into the river.”
Reichl said when water quality at beaches is deemed unsafe, Community Services, which monitors and operates beach parking lots, makes the public aware.
“We post online (at mainecoastdata.org). A sign at the beach is posted that there is an advisory. When the water clears up we take the advisory off,” Reichl said.
Kaczor said contaminated rainwater is more abundant in Scarborough, and particularly Ferry Beach, because of the wildlife that live in the nearby marshlands of Scarborough Marsh.
“Ferry Beach is an area with a lot of wildlife nearby. The bacteria we monitor does not indicate the source,” she said, adding the bacteria is most likely from animals, not sewage leakage.
She said the issue is amplified at Ferry Beach because the water is shallow and is not an open saltwater beach like many others in the area.
“Ferry Beach is a very healthy beach,” Kaczor said, “but it doesn’t take much to put it over the edge.”
Kaczor said in her opinion Higgins Beach is more of a concern although, according to the NRDC findings, it did not exceed the standard as much as Ferry Beach did.
Higgins Beach is located on the confluence of the Spurwink River, which Kaczor said has had a history of water quality issues.
“We are still trying to tease it out, but we are committed to working with the town and others to figure out what is going on there, ” Kaczor said.
Water quality is an issue that many seaside communities in Maine are facing.
“What is unique about the Gulf of Maine is, we have so many rivers and streams and fresh water inputs into the ocean,” Kaczor said. “With more rainfall and with warmer water, it is prime for bacterial growth.”
Bacterial growth is not just an environmental issue, but also a heath concern.
According to the release, exposure to water with high bacteria counts can lead to stomachaches, skin rashes, ear or eye infections, hepatitis and neurological issues.
“A day at the beach shouldn’t turn into a night in the hospital,” said Emily Figdor, director of Environment Maine in the release. Environment Maine is an environmental advocacy organization aimed at preserving Maine’s open spaces and protecting its air and water sources. “Maine beaches are summer playgrounds for local families, and they draw visitors from around the world.
“We need to do everything we can to clean up the sewage and contaminated runoff that put Maine beaches and beachgoers at risk. It will take action by our leaders in Augusta and Washington to be successful.”
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