Citizen Scientists Gathered Data Linking Pathogen Bacteria and Rainfall

KEYPORT, NJ  - NY/NJ Baykeeper, in collaboration with the NY-NJ Harbor and Estuary Program (HEP), the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the Bayshore Regional Watershed Council (BRWC), Raritan Riverkeeper, the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP), and the Interstate Environmental Commission (IEC) released Raritan Bayshore water quality results signifying a correlation between rainfall and pathogen bacteria. The report can be accessed here.

A team of approximately 25 trained citizen scientists sampled nine non-bathing beaches on a weekly basis from June-October 2016. Locations sampled included Bayshore Waterfront Park; Beachway Ave, Keansburg; Cedar St., Keyport;  Cliffwood Beach Waterfront Park, Aberdeen Township; Paul’s Beach, Laurence Harbor; Fishermen’s Beach, South Amboy; Route 35 (Victory) Bridge, Perth Amboy; 2nd Street, Perth Amboy; and Raritan Yacht Club, Perth Amboy. Volunteers participated in all stages of monitoring from sampling collection to laboratory testing.

“All of the sites we sampled lacked sufficient water quality data since they’re categorized as “non-bathing” beaches, although they are heavily used,” said Meredith Comi, Restoration Program Director, NY/NJ Baykeeper.  “The conclusions drawn from this project help us determine the relative health of these beaches, which can be used to inform elected officials, agencies, and residents about their local water quality. We hope to replicate this study in the near future.”

Locations were tested for Enterococcus, a pathogen indicating the presence of fecal bacteria. Water sampling results signified that Enterococcus levels were much higher immediately following precipitation. The highest Enterococcus levels were found in Perth Amboy at the Route 35 Bridge and 2nd Street sites, both located next to CSO discharge pipes. If project locations were classified as bathing beaches, all 9 sites sampled would have had at least one sampling event that resulted in a beach closure, with the exception of Paul’s Beach in Laurence Harbor.

“Perth Amboy is a place where residents use their local waterways for subsistence fishing and swimming,” said Comi. “A better public notification system and more prominent signage is necessary to ensure safety at Combined Sewer Outfall discharge pipes. The public should avoid contact with waterways for at least 72 hours after rainfall to avoid contact with bacteria.”

"Water quality has always been a mystery to the average person enjoying Raritan Bay and Sandy Hook Bay,” said Joe Reynolds, Co-Chair, Bayshore Regional Watershed Council. “When going for a swim on a hot summer’s day one has to hope for the best that she or he doesn’t get any strange rashes or illnesses. This is why the all-volunteer Bayshore Regional Watershed Council was delighted to partner with the NY-NJ Baykeeper in getting local people involved in a citizen science water quality testing program for fecal coliform last summer. Not only did it take some of the secrecy out of water quality, but also it helped to raise awareness of the environmental challenges we confront in our local estuarine waters. If the state can't guarantee to the public that we have clean waters and beaches, then it must be up to community organizations and nonprofits to monitor water bacteria levels."

"The work of our civic science volunteers was meaningful in two primary ways,” said Heather Fenyk, Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership. “First, findings immediately informed day-to-day decisions about recreating in and around our non-swimming beaches. Second, as volunteers established new understandings of how to assess water quality and watershed health, they simultaneously contributed to a database that will inform future understandings of water quality changes related to climate and sea level rise. The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership looks forward to working with NY/NJ Baykeeper to expand the non-swimming beach water quality monitoring program, with the goal of regularly communicating pathogens counts to the Lower Raritan Watershed community."

“We hope that our sampling work opens up a pathway to assessing the possibility of one day having a ‘wading beach’ in the area,” said Bill Schultz, Raritan Riverkeeper.  “This sampling highlights the efforts of NY/NJ Baykeeper and the Raritan Riverkeeper to have our local marine waters swimmable and fishable.  Woodbridge Township is also working on a kayak launch in the Keasbey section to increase public access to the Raritan River.”

The data produced in the report represents a snapshot of water quality in the area. NY/NJ Baykeeper strongly recommends the public to avoid contact with waterways at least 72 hours after rainfall. For those communities looking to better understand the conditions of their local waterways and safe use, NY/NJ Baykeeper strongly recommends working with the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop water quality monitoring programs and obtaining further information to better inform decisions around water quality health and waterfront uses.  

Funding for the water quality sampling program was made possible by the New York - New Jersey Harbor & Estuary Program.