Is It Safe To Swim In Local Waters?

SOUTHERN MARYLAND - Several times a year, the Charles County Health department issues public warnings to avoid recreational use of waterways around the county. The St. Mary's County Health Department announced on June 7 that they will join Charles County in monitoring beach water quality to alert recreational bathers about the conditions at their local beaches.

The most recent warning in Charles County was on June 12 when citizens were warned to avoid contact with the water around the following areas: Friendship Landing at Nanjemoy Creek, Nanjemoy, Neale Sound, Cobb Island, Swan Point Marina, Issue, and Chapel Point State Park at the Port Tobacco River, Port Tobacco.

The warnings are typically due to contamination from elevated levels of bacteria, such as enterococcus. According to the non-profit, environmental organization, the Surfrider Foundation, "Enterococcus is a bacteria found in the human intestine and therefore a good indicator of human waste." A study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that an increased concentration of enterococcus bacteria correlated with increased illness of swimmers.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC): "Most beach closings and advisories are based on monitoring that detects elevated levels of bacteria. The bacteria indicate the presence of microscopic disease-causing organisms from human and animal wastes. These typically enter coastal waters from discharges of untreated or partially treated wastes from sewage treatment plants or sanitary sewers, from septic system failures, and from stormwater that runs off roads and fields in urban, suburban, and rural areas."

Watermen from St. George Island last October told us that on certain days, they find their crab pots wrapped in sewage such as used toilet paper.

On August 03, 2006, Southern Maryland Online published an open letter from State Senator Roy Dyson (D-29) to Frank Wise, Chairman of the Maryland State Water Quality Advisory Committee. In the letter, Dyson referenced recent stories in the St. Mary’s Today and the Washington Post regarding polluted waterways and beaches in southern Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries in general. Dyson continued on to highlight how attempts to pass new legislation to combat the problem were thwarted by special interests. He noted that he suspects the Bay Restoration Fund is paying for new sewage plants—that will probably lead to increased development along local waterways— rather than cleaning up the problem with current sewage plants.

According to local officials at the health department, even with the best monitoring data available, swimmers at local recreational beaches should take the following recommended measures, to minimize the risks associated with swimming in natural waters:

* Always take a shower or bath after swimming;

* Do not swim near storm drains located along the beach area;

* Do not encourage duck, geese, or seagulls by feeding them;

* Encourage others to maintain picnic areas near the beach and keep them free of debris and garbage;

* Get personally involved and volunteer in local beach clean-up efforts.

Water safety reports for St. Mary's County can be obtained on the Health Department's website at or you can call the Beach Hotline at 301-475-4330, ext. 7837.

Water safety reports for Charles County can be obtained on the Health Department's website at or you can call the Environmental Health Services Division at 301-609-6751.


Coliform, Fecal Coliform, & Enterococcus Bacteria

Open Letter From Sen. Dyson to State Water Quality Advisory Committee

Dept. of the Environment Responds to Sen Dyson's Open Letter, Re: Polluted Waterways

Testing the Waters 2006; A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches; Natural Resources Defense Council

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