State Summary: Connecticut

Ranked 17th in Beachwater Quality (out of 30 states)
8% of samples exceeded national standards for designated beach areas in 2012

Protecting swimmers from bacteria, viruses, and other contaminants in beachwater requires leadership. Federal officials must help clean up polluted stormwater runoff—the most commonly identified cause of beach closings and swimming advisories—by developing national rules that require pollution sources to prevent stormwater where it starts by retaining it on-site.

The Environmental Protection Agency must also set beachwater quality standards protective of human health and provide states with the support they need to monitor beach pollution and notify the public when pollution levels are high.

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Connecticut 2012 Beachwater Quality Summary

Reported Sources of Beachwater Contamination
(number of closing/advisory days)

  • 148 (50%) wildlife
  • 106 (36%) stormwater runoff
  • 23 (8%) sewage spills/leaks
  • 21 (7%) unknown contamination sources

Connecticut has 73 public beaches stretching along 15 miles of Long Island Sound coastline. The Connecticut Department of Public Health (CT DPH) administers the state's BEACH Act grant.

What Are the Water Quality Challenges and Improvements in Connecticut?

Hurricanes

Hurricane Sandy was one of the largest storms ever to hit the northeastern United States. Killing 159 people and causing an estimated $70 billion in damage in eight states, Sandy was the most destructive hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season and the second-costliest hurricane in U.S. history. The superstorm hit Connecticut's coast in October 2012, damaging homes and leading to discharges of millions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage into Long Island Sound. A state of emergency was declared for Connecticut, and numerous cities were under evacuations.

The previous year, Connecticut suffered a number of beach closure events due to the rare late-summer Hurricane Irene. The rain from the hurricane caused high fecal indicator bacteria counts and debris hazards.

What Does Beachwater Monitoring Show?1

In 2012, Connecticut reported 73 beaches. Of these, 72 (99%) were assigned a monitoring frequency of once a week, and one (1%) was not monitored. In 2012, 8% of all reported beach monitoring samples exceeded the state's daily maximum bacterial standard of 104 colonies/100 ml. The beaches with the highest percent exceedance rates of the daily maximum standard in 2012 were Pear Tree Point Beach in Fairfield County (28%); Seabluff Beach (28%) and Oak Street B Beach (20%) in New Haven County; and Calf Pasture Beach (19%), Weed Beach (19%), and Rowayton Beach (19%) in Fairfield County. Middlesex County had the highest exceedance rate of the daily maximum standard in 2012 (9%), followed by Fairfield (9%), New Haven (7%), and New London (4%). NRDC considers all reported samples individually (without averaging) when calculating the percent exceedance rates in this analysis. This includes duplicate samples and samples taken outside the official beach season, if any.

Connecticut Percent of Samples Exceeding the State's Daily Maximum Bacterial Standard for 52 Beaches Reported 2008-2012*

    * Please note that only samples from a common set of beaches monitored each year from 2008-2012 are included in the bar chart.

    What Are Connecticut's Sampling Practices?

    Connecticut's monitoring season runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Monitoring at municipal coastal beaches is the responsibility of local health authorities. At state park beaches, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) is responsible, with an advise-and-consent role played by CT DPH. Both local and state personnel follow state guidelines that samples be taken 12 to 18 inches below the surface in water that is 3 to 4 feet deep.

    State guidelines suggest additional sampling when there are higher bather loads, at culverts and drainage pipes after rain events, after sewage spills or other pollution events, when waterfowl are congregating, or when sanitary survey information indicates a potential for non-point contamination after a rain event. Resamples are recommended by the state when a sample exceeds standards. At the four state park marine beaches monitored by CT DEEP, resampling is done every day once a beach is closed until water quality becomes acceptable. States that monitor more frequently after an exceedance is found or after heavy rain will tend to have higher percent exceedance rates and lower total closing/advisory days than they would if their sampling schedule did not increase after an exceedance was found or after a heavy rainfall.

    How Many Beach Closings and Advisories Were Issued in 2012?2

    Total closing/advisory days for 96 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less decreased 45% to 298 days in 2012 from 538 days in 2011. For prior years, there were 143 days in 2010, 108 days in 2009, and 135 days in 2008. There were no extended or permanent events in 2012. Extended events are those in effect more than six weeks but not more than 13 consecutive weeks; permanent events are in effect for more than 13 consecutive weeks. For the 96 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less, 22% (65) of closing/advisory days were due to monitoring that revealed elevated bacteria levels, 50% (148) were preemptive due to wildlife, and 29% (85) were preemptive due to heavy rainfall.

    How Does Connecticut Determine When to Warn Visitors About Swimming?

    State guidelines encourage local health departments and the CT DEEP to apply the EPA's single-sample maximum standard for marine and estuarine designated beach areas (104 cfu/100 ml) when considering whether to close a beach or issue an advisory. The state guidelines also encourage local health departments and the CT DEEP to consider the geometric mean of the last five samples collected in a 30-day period. If this geometric mean is greater than 35 cfu/100 ml, then the state's guideline is to consider closing the beach. Local jurisdictions determine how to apply water quality standards.

    The CT DPH encourages beach managers to consider the range or spread of the sample values that generate geometric mean results greater than 35 cfu/100 ml. Some local health departments use the single-sample maximum or the geometric mean to trigger closing and advisory decisions; for other local health departments and the CT DEEP, the single-sample maximum triggers advisory and closing decisions, and exceedance of the geometric mean standard may trigger consideration of closings and advisories.

    When routine samples exceed the state standards, the state recommends that a resample be taken and a sanitary survey be conducted to determine if raw or partially treated sewage is contributing to the elevated bacterial concentrations. If the survey reveals discharges of raw or partially treated sewage, then the state recommends that the swimming area be closed. If sample results exceed the standards and a sanitary survey reveals no evidence of sewage contamination, the state recommends that the beach be examined with consultation from the CT DPH before any decision about closure is made. A beach where samples exceed the standards may remain open if a sanitary survey reveals no sign of a sewage spill. Local authorities may adopt standards more protective of public health than the state standards and may issue advisories in addition to closures. Most municipalities resample before issuing an advisory, and most also conduct a sanitary survey to determine if sewage is contributing to the elevated bacterial concentrations. Some municipalities collect multiple samples at each monitoring event, and in some cases, if more than one sample exceeds the standard, they will close the beach without resample.

    Local jurisdictions are responsible for determining preemptive closing and advisory practices. State guidance allows preemptive beach closings based on rainfall data, and many municipalities have adopted a preemptive rainfall threshold for some beaches. When preemptive rainfall thresholds are reached at the selected beaches, they are automatically closed until test results indicate that there is no bacterial violation. Local jurisdictions may recommend preemptive closures if there is a known waste contamination event such as a sewage bypass, mechanical failure at a sewage treatment plant, or a sewer line break. If a beach is affected by floating debris, the beach can be closed for safety reasons. Local health departments may also post an advisory at a beach or close it if there is a harmful algal bloom.

    Shoreline municipalities in Connecticut are sensitive to reports of swimmer's itch. Swimmer's itch, also called cercarial dermatitis, appears as a skin rash caused by an allergic reaction to certain parasites that infect some birds and mammals. These microscopic parasites are released from infected snails into freshwater and salt water. While the parasites' preferred host is nonhuman, if the parasite comes into contact with a swimmer, it burrows into the skin and dies, causing an allergic reaction and rash. Swimmer's itch is found throughout the world and is more frequent during summer months. Connecticut beaches can be placed under advisory when swimmer's itch is reported.

    Connecticut 2012 Monitoring Results and Closing/Advisory Days

    County
    Beach
    Tier
    Assigned Monitoring Frequency
    Total Samples
    % of samples exceeding
    state standards
    Closing or Advisory days
    View
      NOTE: Data and state-specific information for this summary were collected from U.S. EPA, direct conversations with beach managers in the state, state grant reports to U.S. EPA for BEACH Act funding, and the state water quality website. The information in this state summary reflects current data as of June 7, 2013.
    1. If the 2012 percent exceedance values in this summary don't match, why not? The value at the top of the page reflects the proportion of samples exceeding the national single-sample maximum standard for designated beach areas. The values in the "What Does Beach Monitoring Show?" section reflect the proportion of samples exceeding the state standard, which in some states is more or less stringent than the national designated beach standard. Additionally, only samples from a common set of beaches monitored each year from 2008-2012 are included in the bar chart. Because some beaches were not monitored in each of those years, the percent exceedance for this subset of beaches may not have the same value as the percent exceedance for all of the beaches monitored in 2012.
    2. Year-to-year changes in closing/advisory days should not necessarily be interpreted as an indication of the level of bacterial contamination. In some states and localities, the number of beaches and/or beach monitoring frequency may not be consistent from one year to the next, and beaches may be closed or under a swimming advisory for reasons other than known or suspected bacterial contamination. Other reasons include, but are not limited to, chemical/oil spills, medical waste washing up on shore, dangerous currents, lack of lifeguards, etc. In addition, because NRDC's totals of closing/advisory events focus on those events lasting six consecutive weeks or less, those tallies do not account for longer-duration closings or advisories. For trends in water quality, please refer to NRDC's year-to-year comparison of percent exceedance rates of state water quality standards.

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