Ocean City, Assateague Beaches Earn High Marks

BERLIN – Ocean City and
Assateague beaches were rated high in a swimming beach water quality report,
but more attention needs to be paid to the current conditions of the Coastal
Bays water, local activists say.

The two Maryland beaches
rated in the Natural Resource Defense Council’s (NEDC) “Testing the Waters”
report, released this week, received four stars.

The beach at Assateague
State Park and Ocean City’s beach earned four stars out of five in the NRDC
report for 2009 water quality, good water quality for the last three years,
promptness in issuing advisories and posting advisories and closings at the
beaches and online.

Swimming beach water
quality tests look for harmful bacteria in the water to protect swimmers from
health hazards.

Both beaches lost a star
because water quality testing is only conducted once per week.

Rehoboth’s Rehoboth
Avenue beach and Cape Henlopen State Park’s Herring Point beach also earned
four stars each, losing a star apiece for less frequent water quality testing.

The ocean beaches in
Maryland benefit from a lack of stormwater run-off, Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips
of Assateague Coastal Trust (ACT) said. That stormwater runs off from
residential neighborhoods, farmland, and the intensely developed Ocean City
into Maryland’s five coastal bays.

“Worcester County only
monitors two swimming areas in the entire coastal bays watershed, Public
Landing in Chincoteague Bay, and the swimming beach at Castaways Campground on
Sinepuxent Bay, and neither of these beaches report to the EPA and therefore
are not covered in this report,” Phillips said.

ACT plans to launch its
Swimmable Bays project in August, a website that will house weekly reports on
the water quality in the coastal bays.

“I think it would be
interesting to monitor these areas where people recreate very heavily,”
Phillips said.

Funding from a private
donor will allow ACT to begin taking samples at four areas in the northern
coastal bays used for water recreation, which are also near stormwater outfalls
– the St. Martin River off Ocean Pines; the juncture of Turville and Herring
Creeks; off mid-town Ocean City; and off West Ocean City in Isle of Wight Bay.

The weekly samples will
be tested for bacteria at a state certified lab in Salisbury.

“It’s going to be
interesting to collect that data … I’m curious. I don’t expect to see
outrageous numbers except maybe after a heavy rain,” Phillips said.

People do not need to be
worried about dangerous bacteria in the coastal bays in general, Maryland
Coastal Bays Program Director Dave Wilson agreed.

Pockets of bacteria have
been known to occur in the shallow bay waters and bay tributaries, with some
high levels of bacteria found in Manklin Creek this year and some parts of the
St. Martin River, but it is not a chronic issue. High bacteria levels are a
result of human or animal waste being washed into the water by precipitation.

“Most of our problems
are associated with nutrients but on some occasions we do have bacteria,” said

Most bacteria problems
would likely occur after strong rainstorms, Wilson said.

The issue of water
quality in the bays may not be very changeable from week to week, but more
monitoring benefits those making policy and plans around the bays.

“The more sampling the
better,” said Wilson.