Re­port: Rivers and streams in bad shape

Study finds county has many with high bac­te­ria level

The Norwalk Hour - - FRONT PAGE - By Bill Cum­mings

The qual­ity of Fair­field County’s rivers and streams is not good — a telling in­di­ca­tor of how chal­leng­ing it is to im­prove Long Is­land Sound’s frag­ile ecosys­tem.

A new re­port by the West­port-based Har­bor Watch found that wa­ter from 20 rivers ex­ceeded ac­cept­able lev­els of bac­te­ria 77 per­cent of the time — the same cri­te­ria the state uses to close beaches.

“The high in­ci­dence of fail­ing bac­te­ria con­cen­tra­tions shows us that there is still a great deal of work to be done to im­prove wa­ter qual­ity in the Long Is­land Sound wa­ter­shed,” said Sarah Crosby, di­rec­tor of Har­bor Watch, the re­search arm of Earth­place.

But even with the dis­ap­point­ing re­sults, Crosby said she is buoyed by the will­ing­ness towns and cities have shown in finding leak­ing sewage sys­tems and re­duc­ing pol­lu­tion that en­ters wa­ter­ways and ul­ti­mately the Sound.

“De­spite the problems iden­ti­fied by our study, I am en­cour­aged by the progress be­ing made to im­prove wa­ter qual­ity in our com­mu­nity,” Crosby said.

Har­bor Watch tested rivers, brooks and streams from Green­wich to Mil­ford be­tween May and Septem­ber. Re­searchers cal­cu­lated bac­te­ria lev­els and the amount of dis­solved oxy­gen in the wa­ter — both key mark­ers for as­sess­ing the health of a wa­ter­way.

Some of the rivers and streams — Bruce Brook, Deep Brook, Good­wives River and Green­wich Creek — failed ev­ery test for ac­cept­able lev­els of bac­te­ria.

A few rivers showed bet­ter re­sults. The wa­ter from the Sau­gatuck River failed 31 per­cent of the time; the Mianus River 45 per­cent; and the Norwalk River 81 per­cent.

Re­sults vary from test to test for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, in­clud­ing the fre­quency of rain­fall dur­ing the test­ing pe­riod and the prox­im­ity to sources of pol­lu­tion. By tak­ing mul­ti­ple tests over time, re­searchers can paint an ac­cu­rate pic­ture of a wa­ter­way’s over­all health.

“This mon­i­tor­ing sea­son

in­di­cates that there is still con­sid­er­ably more work to be done to im­prove the over­all wa­ter qual­ity of the Long Is­land Sound wa­ter­shed,” the re­port con­cluded.

Warn­ing signs

The con­cept of an ac­cept­able level of bac­te­ria has been around for decades and is the gen­eral stan­dard the state uses to judge beaches in the sum­mer. When the level of dif­fer­ent types of bac­te­ria rise to a cer­tain point, the wa­ter is not con­sid­ered safe for swim­ming or recre­ational use.

Crosby said the cri­te­ria Har­bor Watch used is less strict than the stan­dard the state ap­plies when de­cid­ing to close a beach.

“The cri­te­ria we used is for ‘all other recre­ational uses’ of the wa­ter, which is ac­tu­ally less strin­gent than those for swim­ming and fish­ing,” Crosby said. “A ‘fail­ing’ bac­te­ria con­cen­tra­tion would in­di­cate that there may be pathogens there that could be harm­ful to peo­ple.”

Crosby said the 2018 re­sults are worse than tests con­ducted in 2016 and 2017.

“Some of that is driven by rain­fall con­di­tions,” Crosby said. “This mon­i­tor­ing data is so im­por­tant be­cause it pro­vides in­for­ma­tion

that towns need for where to fo­cus their pol­lu­tion re­duc­tion ef­forts.”

Crosby noted most towns re­spond to the re­port.

“I got an email from a pub­lic works staff mem­ber from one of our partner towns who read the re­port and (said) they al­ready had a plan ready for how to re­spond,” Crosby said.

“We are go­ing to go out next week to con­duct ad­di­tional sam­pling,” she said.

Forc­ing re­pairs

Peter Lin­deroth, wa­ter qual­ity pro­gram man­ager for Save the Sound, said his or­ga­ni­za­tion ob­tained nearly iden­ti­cal fail­ure

rates dur­ing re­cent river test­ing.

“We have about 33 sites that we test, and we found a 74 per­cent fail­ure rate,” Lin­deroth said.

“I didn’t ex­pect it to be that high,” he said.

“These rivers me­an­der through dif­fer­ent ar­eas, from back­yards to com­mer­cial and in­dus­trial ar­eas,” Lin­deroth said. “There are sep­tic tanks, leak­ing sewer lines and il­le­gal dis­charges. We find quite a few of these.”

Lin­deroth said Save the Sound no­ti­fies those re­spon­si­ble for the pol­lu­tion — whether pri­vate sources or mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties — and uses dif­fer­ent meth­ods to in­duce re­pairs and cleanup work, in­clud­ing let­ters, call­ing state reg­u­la­tors and fil­ing law­suits.

“It’s not al­ways easy to find leak­ing sewer lines; they are un­der­ground,” Lin­deroth said. “We work to iden­tify the ar­eas.”

Asked about the risk to peo­ple, Lin­deroth said he would think twice about swim­ming or throw­ing out a fish­ing line in a river or stream that failed a bac­te­ria test.

“I’d be very con­cerned about it,” Lin­deroth said.

“Peo­ple should ask ‘why is this hap­pen­ing’ and call their towns,” Lin­deroth said, adding it’s a prob­lem when re­sults ex­ceed ac­cept­able bac­te­ria lev­els dur­ing a 10week test­ing pe­riod.

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