We’ve mapped out all the beaches monitored in the DelMarVa area under the Environmental Protection Agency’s BEACH Program. A green dot means that beach hasn’t had a closure or “swimming advisory” since January 1, 2010. A yellow dot means the beach has had an advisory or closure during that same time period. A red dot means the beach is currently closed or under a swimming advisory.
Health Department experts tell us they typically issue a swimming advisory when they get an average sample of enterococci that’s higher than 104/100ml. Matt Skiljo with Virginia’s Department of Health explained enterococci won’t make you sick, but is a good measure in salt water of other things that could. “It’s indicating that pathogens, other bacteria or viruses could be in the water," Skiljo said.
Kathy Brohawn, with Maryland’s Department of Environment, told us enterococci “is very common in everyone’s gut. In a bird’s gut, a horse’s gut, a dog’s gut. And it’s very cheap to test for. The EPA has done studies that show when it’s at a certain threshold [104/100ml], the risk of getting an illness is greater. There’s no guarantee you’re going to get sick, but there’s no guaranteed you’re not.”
She said in her opinion, “If it’s up around 1,000 or more you’re thinking you have sewage sources because that’s serious.”
To create the map, the News4 I-Team downloaded EPA’s Beach Advisory and Closing Online Notification (BEACON) system data from January 1, 2010 until May 15, 2015 for Maryland, Delaware and Virginia’s federally monitored beaches under the BEACH program. Maryland monitors additional water bodies, like Deep Creek Lake, using state funding.
The three states typically take water samples during peak swim season between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Most beaches are sampled at least once a week. Some, like Ocean City, use local funds to monitor more than once a week.
We plan to keep updating this information throughout the summer.