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.
Hurricane Irene and Beach Closures
There was a marked increase in the number of beach closure events in 2011 in Connecticut, largely due to debris hazards created by a rare late-summer hurricane (Hurricane Irene). Rain from the hurricane also caused high fecal indicator bacteria counts, particularly at the eastern end of Long Island Sound, where both the Connecticut and Thames rivers drain. Heavy rains in mid-August also impacted beachwater quality at the eastern end of the Sound.
What Does Beachwater Monitoring Show?
After reviewing historical data on bacterial densities, Ledge Light Health District permanently removed Kiddie's Beach in New London County from service in early 2011 and posted it with "No Swimming" signs. This beach will continue to be out of service until further notice. West Haven East Beach and West Haven West Beach in New Haven County were converted to nine smaller beach locations (Altschuler, Dawson, Morse, Oak Street A, Oak Street B, Rock Street, Seabluff, Seaview, and South Street) in 2011.
In 2011, Connecticut reported 73 beaches. Of these, 72 (99%) were assigned a monitoring frequency of once a week, and 1 (1%) was not monitored. In 2011, 11% 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 state standard in 2011 were Green Harbor Beach in New London County (52%), Seabluff Beach in New Haven County (30%), Town Beach (Clinton) in Middlesex County (28%), Short Beach in Fairfield County (27%), Esker Point Beach in New London County (25%), Branford Point Beach (25%) and Clark Avenue Beach (22%) in New Haven County, and White Sands Beach in New London County (20%).
Beaches in New Haven County had the highest exceedance rate of the state standard in 2011 (11%), followed by New London (11%), Fairfield (10%), and Middlesex (8%) counties. 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.
* Please note that only samples from a common set of beaches monitored each year from 2007-2011 are included in the bar chart.
What Are Connecticut's Sampling Practices?
Connecticut's monitoring season stretches 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. 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. Beaches are assigned to tiers at the end of every bathing season. These tier assignments are not related to the extent of beach use or potential for beachwater contamination, but are instead assigned on the basis of the sampling frequency reported by local health departments and CT DEEP and the number of beach closing events. Beaches that were sampled weekly and had no more than one closure event during the previous swim season are assigned Tier 1 status, beaches that were sampled weekly and had two or three closure events during the previous swim season are assigned Tier 2 status, and beaches that were not sampled weekly or that had more than three closure events during the previous swim season are assigned Tier 3 status. Sampling frequency and the number of monitoring station locations at a beach are not assigned on the basis of beach tier.
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, if waterfowl are congregating, or if 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 recreational 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 2011?
Total closing/advisory days for 167 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less increased nearly fourfold, from 143 days in 2010 to 538 days in 2011. The increase was largely due to heavy rainfall, including the rains of Hurricane Irene. For prior years, there were 108 days in 2009, 135 days in 2008, 108 days in 2007, 224 days in 2006, and 200 days in 2005. In addition, there were no extended events and 1 permanent event (98 days) in 2011. 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 167 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less, 26% (139) of closing/advisory days were due to monitoring that revealed elevated bacteria levels; 21% (115) were preemptive due to other reasons, predominantly associated with Hurricane Irene; 49% (261) were preemptive due to heavy rainfall other than Hurricane Irene; and 4% (23) were preemptive due to reports of swimmer's itch.
How Does Connecticut Determine When to Warn Visitors About Swimming?
Local jurisdictions determine how they will apply water quality standards. State guidelines encourage local health departments and 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 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. CT DPH encourages beach managers to take into consideration the range or spread of the sample values that generate geometric mean results greater than 35 cfu/100 ml. Some local health departments use either the single-sample maximum or the geometric mean to trigger closing and advisory decisions; for other local health departments and 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 bathing area be closed. If sample results exceed the standards and a sanitary survey reveals no evidence of sewage contamination, the state recommends that the bathing area be examined on an individual basis with consultation from CT DPH before any decision about closure is made. A beach whose 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 municipalities 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 also responsible for determining their own 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 selected beaches. When preemptive rainfall thresholds are reached at these beaches, the beaches are automatically closed until test results indicate that there is no bacterial violation. State guidance says that 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 impacted by floating debris, the beach can be closed for safety reasons.1 In addition, local health departments may post an advisory or closure that responds to local conditions and to protect public health. Local health departments may also post an advisory at a beach or close it if there is a harmful algal bloom. In late 2009, the state issued a framework document that includes recommendations about managing beach hazards for local health departments.
Shoreline municipalities 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 fresh 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 2011 Monitoring Results and Notice and Advisory Days
||Assigned Monitoring Frequency
||% of samples exceeding state standards
||Closing or Advisory days