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How clean is the water on New York beaches, and how to find out its quality


Lyudmila Balabay

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Last weekend in New York officially kicked off beach season. How nice it is to plunge into cool water in hot weather! But cool doesn't mean clean. Billions of gallons of sewage and storm water are dumped into the waterways of the Big Apple every year, and this is reflected in water quality, warns City Limits.

On May 25 - the day before the beaches reopened - city officials asked people not to swim at Manhattan Beach in south Brooklyn, citing "inadequate water quality."

Last season, the city's 25 beaches were closed a total of 244 times, either because the water quality did not meet safety standards or because of excessive rainfall, which increases the likelihood of water pollution. Beaches in New York were closed 2021 times in 94.

The poor water quality on New York's beaches is due largely to untreated sewage from the city's outdated sewer system, as well as pollution from the streets that enters the harbor when it rains. Rain often carries chemicals, fast food wrappers, cigarette butts, fuel, bacteria from pet feces, and other debris from the streets and rooftops of New York City to the city's harbor. The extent to which each form of pollution affects a particular beach varies by location: some are closer to wastewater sources than others.

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) estimates that 11 billion gallons of raw sewage are released into the surrounding waters each year. Environmental groups believe the real figure is higher. They estimate that 20 to 30 billion gallons of sewage is dumped into New York's waterways each year.

Private and public beaches

The beach is closed if more bacteria are found in the water sample than the safety standards of a certain state or city. Swimming in contaminated water can lead to rashes, infections and bowel problems, according to the city's health department.

Before you go to the beach in New York, call 311 or text Beach to 55676 and find out which beaches are closed due to pollution.

Although the number of water samples varied greatly from year to year, the percentage of samples with bacteria counts above the safety limit has steadily increased since 2019. This applies to both private and public beaches. The statistics do not include 2020 - then the beaches were closed due to a pandemic and water samples were practically not taken.

On the subject: On the beach of Brighton Beach at low tide you can see the mysterious faces of the stone: how they appeared there

Over the past four years, water quality at private beaches in New York City has been worse than public bathing areas. Most private beaches are located in semi-enclosed harbors where polluted water stagnates.

Meanwhile, most public beaches are connected to the open ocean, and the currents are constantly washing away pollutants. Over the past four summers, just under 6% of water samples taken at eight city beachesexceeded the safety threshold. Some have demonstrated excellent water quality. For example, water samples at Rockaway Beach did not exceed the threshold for bacteria count for three years.

Infographic: New York City Department of Health

One of the worst is the private beach of the Douglaston Homestead Association in Queens. Over the past four years, water samples in it showed dangerous levels of bacteria more often than on any other beach. In 2021, 50% of the water from this beach showed dangerous levels of bacteria. Last year there were more than 45% of them.

The other beaches with the most dangerous levels of bacteria in the water in 2022 were the White Cross Fishing Club in the Bronx (over 40% of samples showed dangerous levels of bacteria) and the Whitestone Booster Civic in Queens (over 35%). Both of these beaches are private.

How runoff pollutes beaches

60% of sewers in New York use an archaic combination system developed in the 4th century. Sewerage and storm drains are discharged into the same pipes. During heavy rains, the pipes cannot handle the amount of incoming water and dump waste into the nearest body of water without being cleaned. Most modern cities have abandoned the use of such a system, now less than XNUMX% of municipalities in the United States use it.

But splitting New York City's combined sewer system is not an option. It will cost more than $100 billion, the Department of Environmental Protection said.

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