Befouled Waters Stymie Would-Be Swimmers

beach Befouled Waters Stymie Would Be Swimmers

Guess what else is swimming in the water? (Moonman82, flickr)

New Yorkers seeking a day at the beach might find themselves enjoying an extended visit to the bathroom instead.

The New York-New Jersey area has the fourth-highest rate in the U.S. for exceeding the national recommended daily standard for bacteria, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. And given that those standards are pretty lax, this means that New York’s waters are, well, less than pristine.

Thanks to the Environmental Protection Agency’s newly revised standards for water quality, water containing enough bacteria to infect one in 28 swimmers is considered “safe” for recreation, The New York Times reports. Hey, those aren’t the best odds, but the water’s fine, come right in!

Last year, New York beaches nearly doubled the number of closings or swim advisories, while New Jersey’s just slightly increased, according to The Times.

The problem facing beaches of the New York-New Jersey region is the makeup of our sewer system, which has both storm water and waste traveling through it. Periods of heavy rainfall lead to not infrequent overflows and subsequent leaks into the New York waters.

And this past year the greater New York region had lots of things working against it—heavy rainfall, Hurricane Irene and that fire at the sewage treatment plant on the Hudson River in Harlem, The Times notes.

So what counts as an infection? The current EPA standard states that there must be a fever present for an illness to be considered gastrointestinal. We’re assuming they’ve not recently experienced the perils of ingesting bad water–fever or no fever.

Still there is hope on the horizon—to combat whatever heavy rainfall New York has yet to experience this summer, the city council is looking to invest in porous pavements in the sidewalks to absorb the excess storm water.

We can’t help but wonder if bacteria might save Fort Tilden from being overrun with Bushwickians. And while the EPA claims that their policy will “protect more than 99 percent of swimmers from gastrointestinal illnesses,” we think we might be taking a short hiatus from the trenches of Coney Island this summer.

sgrothjan@observer.com