Report Shows Area Beaches May Have Unsafe Water - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Reported by Elizabeth Harrington and Matt DeLucia

Report Shows Area Beaches May Have Unsafe Water

Officials say the parking lot of Public Landing drains into this open grate, which drains into the same pipe under the lot, and discharges directly into the bay. Officials say the parking lot of Public Landing drains into this open grate, which drains into the same pipe under the lot, and discharges directly into the bay.

08/07/2007 6:05 PM ET

BERLIN, Md.- A new report on water quality at state beaches raises questions about the wisdom, and safety, of getting in the water.

In the survey, conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Maryland ranked sixth with the highest number of beaches with unsafe bacteria levels.

The worst beach on Maryland's Eastern Shore is in Public Landing in Worcester County. The report shows that in 40 percent of the tests done at Public Landing, bacteria levels were unsafe for swimming.

Delaware ranked 28th.  High bacteria levels turned up at the Seashore State Park bayside.

Virginia came in last place at number 29.  The report shows no major problems on that state's Eastern Shore.

The beaches, including Delaware's worst, Tower Road Bayside, has what experts call a high level of indicator bacteria called enterococcus. It is found in most bodies of water and serves as an indicator of potentially harmful conditions.

Enterococcus took the place of fecal coliform in 2004 as the new federal standard for water quality at public beaches. The bacteria is commonly found in sewage and runoff.

Jack Pingree of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said Tower Road Bayside and nearby Hooks Landing register higher levels because the water sits in that area for months, making for prime conditions for growth.

Advisories have been posted for swimmers but Pingree said the risk to humans is small. He said the only problems swimmers may experience would be minor gastrointestinal problems.

Still, the report's findings leave many concerned. Environmentalists say the report's findings are disturbing and indicate the problem will only get worse if something is not done. They blame growth for contributing to the problem.

Assateague Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips took part in the study.  She pointed out that storm drains in Public Landing send runoff straight into the water without any filtration.

Another problem is inside people's homes.

"Something needs to be done about those very old septic systems that everyone has. They don't have current technology," Phillips said. 

Phillips said that in heavy rains those septic systems can overflow adding more bacteria into the water.

Brianna Neff and her friends took turns on the slide on the dock. She said the report does concern her but that is not going to stop her from sliding into the water.

"I try not to worry about it so I'll try to think about how good the water feels," Neff said.

Helena Henson has lived in the area all her life. She said the water at Public Landing has changed over the years, especially the color, which on Tuesday was a greenish shade.

"It was just as pretty and blue as it could be," Henson said. "It's just a change from what it used to be."

Sixteen-year-old Amanda Field said something needs to be done to keep waters like this one safe.

"This is our home. They really should take more care of it."

The Assateague Coastkeeper plans on asking Worcester County for a plant barrier on the waterfront. That way runoff will be filtered before it flows into the bay.

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