BERLIN — After working with Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources earlier this spring to ensure water quality sampling could begin with COVID-19 protocols in place, Assateague Coastal Trust’s (ACT) water monitoring program was able to begin the 2020 sampling season in late May
Each week since, ACT has collected critical water quality data and water samples from sites along the St. Martin River, Isle of Wight and Assawoman Bays, Turville Creek, and Herring Creek to supplement the ocean beaches monitored by Worcester County and the Assateague National Seashore.
By monitoring variables such as pH, dissolved oxygen, water clarity, and analyzing water samples for the presence of enterococci, ACT keeps the public routinely updated on the health of local waterways throughout the busy summer season on the ACT website www.ACTforBays.org and with their ‘smart phone app’ The Swim Guide.
“Our water monitoring program has been collecting and reporting on the water quality of our coastal bays since 2012. It’s a service that we believe is very important, not only to ensure the health of these waterways is protected, but also to ensure the health of those that recreate on the water isn’t jeopardized,” said Swim Guide Program Coordinator and Communications Director Billy Weiland.
ACT reports the data and bacteria results to the public each week through several platforms, including the data page at ActForBays.org/data, and on SwimGuide, a free smartphone app that users may download to access water quality information for waterways in their area. The app utilizes color coded flags to signify whether a waterway’s bacteria levels are considered safe or if levels are elevated above the Maryland Department of Environment’s recommended threshold.
“We also include ocean swimming beach bacteria data for Ocean City and Assateague Island that is reported on the Worcester County and Accomack county websites in the Swim Guide app,” said Weiland. “It’s like one stop shopping.”
To date, Weiland says that at the 10 back bay sites ACT monitors, the data suggests relatively healthy and safe waters throughout the coastal bays.
“Water clarity and dissolved oxygen levels are all looking good,” he said, “but what we generally see is that, at those sites further upstream from the inlet and less susceptible to flushing with tide changes, as the season wears on those water quality parameters like dissolved oxygen can decrease, water clarity can become poor, and bacteria levels can increase.”
The Swim Guide app is free to download to all devices. In 2019, the bacteria levels in the northern Coastal Bays was viewed on Swim Guide nearly 20,000 times. So far this season the app has been viewed approximately 1,000 times per week but those numbers will increase with the 4th of July weekend.
ACT encourages everyone to stay in the know when it comes to the quality of local waterways, particularly if you will be enjoying them for fishing, crabbing, or recreating in and on the water.