EASTON — “Is it safe to swim in the river?” is one of the most common questions ShoreRivers hears from community members.
According to a news release, bacteria and toxic algae in waterways pose threats to both water quality and public health. People who come in contact with bacteria- or toxin-laden water can contract eye, ear and respiratory diseases, skin rashes, gastrointestinal issues or brain or liver damage.
To assess the health of local rivers and potential risks to human health, ShoreRivers regularly monitors bacteria pollution at 28 sites throughout the mid- and upper Eastern Shore and works closely with government agencies to track toxic algal blooms, the release states.
The Swimmable ShoreRivers program tests all the rivers in the region for bacteria at popular swimming locations, marinas, yacht clubs and towns. ShoreRivers staff and volunteers conduct tests on a weekly or bi-weekly basis from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
The program reportedly follows the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard protocols for collecting and analyzing samples and uses a pass-fail system to determine if bacteria levels are safe or unsafe for swimming.
Test results from the sites are posted at theswimguide.org. Updates during swim season can be found by following #SwimmableShoreRivers on social media.
Additionally, the Swimmable ShoreRivers program works with government health agencies at the local and state levels to monitor toxic algal blooms and inform the public of serious potential health risks to humans and pets.
Algal blooms occur naturally, but increased levels of nutrient pollution in waterways from fertilizers, septic systems and wastewater plants fuel larger, more toxic and longer-lasting blooms, according to the release.
In the ShoreRivers region, toxic blooms occur most frequently on the Sassafras River due to its lower salinity levels.
This summer ShoreRivers dealt with a toxic algal bloom on the Sassafras that lasted for almost three months. This was the largest, longest-lasting and most toxic bloom ever recorded on the river, causing the Maryland Department of the Environment to issue a water contact advisory for the whole river, the release states.
The results from ShoreRivers’ monitoring in 2020 show that bacteria and algal conditions vary based on location, weather and other factorsl.
The majority of the bacteria monitoring sites passed more than 60% of the time. However, a few sites failed more than 40% of the time; meaning that in the majority of times sampled, the bacteria levels in the water exceeded EPA’s threshold for safe water contact.
Specifically, these sites are located at Hambrooks Bay Beach, Crouse Park, Denton, Broad Cove Claiborne, Morgan Creek Landing and Duck Neck.
“Bacteria pollution most commonly comes from leaking sewer lines and septic systems, stormwater runoff,…