WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. – When you’re sunning on the beach and wading out into Sound Shore waters this summer, you may not be thinking about what’s floating around you, but according to the Westchester County Health Department, there’s no need to worry.
“The message should be, without a doubt there’s no reason to panic or be scared to swim,” said Peter DeLucia, assistant commissioner of the Bureau of Public Health Protection of the Westchester County Health Department. “If you see the beaches closed, it could just be pre-emptive. You shouldn’t be scared to swim if the beach is open.”
Since bacteria-laden discharge from stormwater drains may seep into the Long Island Sound during rainfalls, the Westchester County Department of Health has a policy of closing beaches before inches of rainfall descend on the watershed. If water samplings exceed the state allowance of 104 colonies/100 milliliters, beaches must be closed.
After each heavy rainfall, Harbor Island, Beachpoint, Mamaroneck Beach and Yacht, Orienta Club, Echo Bay Club, Hudson Park, Shore Acres, Coveleigh Club, Davenport Club and Greentree Club are all pre-emptively closed.
“Over years of research we’ve been able to come up with this practice of pre-emptively closing those 10 beaches because sample data showed the exceedance that would happen with rain events,” DeLucia said.
This summer those 10 beaches have been closed for six days due to rain. Three beaches also were closed for a total of six days due to elevated bacteria levels, according to Caren Halbfinger, director of public health information for the Westchester County Health Department.
Heavy rainfalls in watershed areas – like those that fell during Hurricane Irene last summer – impact nearby Sound Shore water quality. The watershed area of the Mamaroneck River, for instance, will impact water quality in the harbor during heavy rain. Similarly, in New Rochelle, Echo Bay will affect Hudson Park and Echo Bay Club.
According to a report released this year by the Natural Resources Defense Council, at Harbor Island Beach in Mamaroneck during 2010-2011, samplings were conducted once a week for a total of 52 samples. Of those samples, 17 percent exceeded state standards. The area was closed or under advisory for 14 days during that time period. Similarly, at Shore Acres Club, also in Mamaroneck, 19 samples were taken and 32 percent of them exceeded state standards. It was closed for 13 days.
“A lot of it is related to geography. The harbor is a semicircle, so it’s more difficult for tidal water to go in and pull things out,” Halbfinger said.
Nearby in New Rochelle, Hudson Park was closed for 13 days and Glen Island Park was closed for only two days in 2010-2011. Larchmont Park Manor never closed, and the much-frequented Rye Beach also never closed. Overall, there are far more days that beaches are open than closed.
“So far this season nothing unusual has been reported floating up on the beach. That’s a good thing,” DeLucia said. “I think we’re fortunate that everybody has been taking as many precautions. We are looking for inappropriate connections into storm sewers. It’s a constant battle and the towns are being vigilant.”