First Wade-In Records Isle Of Wight Water Clarity Level

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OCEAN CITY – A windy Thursday morning did not turn out to be the best day to measure water quality but local environmental community members came out loud and clear to relay the message of the importance of water quality.

The Assateague Coastkeeper held the 1st Annual Isle of Wight Bay Wade-In at the Worcester County Isle of Wight Nature Park on Swimmable Action Day, which is a function of the Waterkeeper Alliance’s CWA 40 Campaign that commemorates the 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act.

The Waterkeeper Alliance is a network of 200 water protection groups worldwide and Assateague Coastkeeper and Assateague Coastal Trust are members. The focus of the Swimmable Action Day is to encourage citizens to celebrate the right to clean, swimmable waters and to promote the importance of the Clean Water Act, established in 1972, in protecting our local waterways.

According to Assateague Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips, a wade-in is an unscientific check of water clarity. Retired Maryland State Sen. Bernie Fowler initiated the first one 20 years ago to check water quality in Maryland’s bays and tributaries. The official wade-in measurement, known as the "Sneaker Index", documents how deep waders can go and still see their shoes.

“Ever since the early 1980’s when Sen. Bernie Fowler, who lives on the Patuxent River, decided to walk out and see if he could see his sneakers and measure the distance from the top of the water to where he lost the sight of his sneakers, it became the Fowler index,” Assateague Coastal Trust President Dr. Tom Jones said. “So every year after that Bernie would go in the same spot the same time of the year and get his index, and it still goes on today.”

Jones furthered that to his knowledge there has been no index taken on the Coastal Bays and that is where Phillips stepped in.

“First of all this was a Waterkeeper Alliance Swimmable Action Day so I wanted to have some type of event that would be fun and get people in the water but would also be an educational moment to talk about the condition of the coastal bays,” Phillips said. “The idea of doing the wade-in is because now we can come back next year and we can take the measurement again and hopefully it will improve every year that is the idea.”

Members of the Assateague Coastal Trust, along with their colleagues and friends waded into the Isle of Wight Bay and took a measurement of nine inches before they could not see the top of their sneakers.

“The turbidity of water is really important because when sunlight can’t penetrate down to the bottom, grasses can’t grow, and if the grasses can’t grow than it changes the whole habitat for the animals, so it is very important that the sunlight penetrate the water, the more turbid it is the less light penetrates down,” Jones explained of the importance of water clarity.

Jones furthered that turbidity mostly comes from land runoff, soil and nutrients, like nitrogen phosphorous. Nitrogen phosphorous causes the microscopic algae, which also makes water cloudy.

“It just makes for a very cloudy soup out there when you have too many nutrients, too much sentiment and to much more or less microscopic biology out there filling water,” he said.

Phillips added that the wade-in is unscientific but it is the idea of getting the community involved and the awareness of water quality that is the most important.

“The bays are stressed and there is no arguing that,” she said. “The coastal bays report card year after year doesn’t show any improvement … it is good for people to be aware of it. Today being Swimmable Action Day we want people to go out and swim and have fun and just be aware of what needs to be done to continue to have good swimmable water quality here in the bays.

On Thursday, the Assateague Coastkeeper announced the launch of the Swim Guide smart phone app in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and the Chesapeake region. The app helps the user locate the closest, cleanest beach, get directions, view photos, and determine if the water is safe for swimming.

The Swim Guide utilizes water quality monitoring data from government authorities to determine the water quality at nearly 2500 beaches in the U.S. and is updated frequently as the water quality information is gathered.

Assateague Coastal Trust will soon bring the Delmarva Coastal Bays to the Swim App, as soon as links, photos, and descriptions of Worcester and Accomack County public beaches are compiled. Coastkeeper also plans to expand the Swim Guide app in 2013.

“The Assateague Coastkeeper app is going to be a citizen recording mechanism, in other words if they are somewhere and they see pollution they can snap and take a picture of it with their phone, write a description, the smart phone with record the latitude and longitude, and it will come directly to me and then I can check it out and see if I need to call and report it to the County or State agency,” Phillips said.

The Coastkeeper app will also to include their own bacteria monitoring data for waterways where the public recreates on and in the water instead of on a waterfront beach.

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