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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Worried about quality of water along watershed?

(July 23, 2015) People planning a trip to the beach or preparing to take part in water sports in the area can check the water quality, if they so desire, with a new app offered by the Assateague Coastal Trust.
Created by the Lake Ontario Waterkeepers, the “Swim Guide” app offers current information – from Memorial Day through Labor Day – on beaches and waterways across North America.
While Worcester County receives federal funding to monitor ocean beaches and public landings for EPA safe standards, ACT Executive Director Kathy Phillips said that information can be difficult to locate.
Swim Guide, she said, allows users to easily receive that data.
“When you open the app, the GPS picks up where you are and puts out a whole list of all the beaches and gives you a green or a red as to whether it’s safe to go in or not,” she said. “It picks up all the county-monitored beaches, so we have all the beaches down in Ocean City and all the beaches they do down on Assateague Island, and it puts it all in one place.”
Phillips said the Berlin-based nonprofit has also worked to fill in the gaps between county-monitored beaches and those that often go overlooked.
“What we’ve done is expand into the waters behind Ocean City and Assateague Island, places where people recreate in the water,” she said.
“The county was only doing the ocean beaches, so there was this gap,” Phillips continued. “We know people use those areas for water recreation. The beauty of Swim Guide is it picks up the county information and plugs it in there right along with what we’ve been monitoring.”
Philips said state recommendations advise the public to avoid contact with waterways for up to 48 hours after a heavy rainfall, when beaches can become unsafe for swimming based on EPA standards.
“The reason is because the stormwater runoff contains animal feces, and aging septic systems don’t operate as efficiently when there’s a lot of groundwater and a lot of water runoff getting into the system, so they can discharge sewage,” she said. “All the water that runs off of parking lots and wildfowl can also cause problems. There’s a number of factors that contribute to it.”
Because Ocean City stormwater drains into the bay, Phillips said it’s “very, very rare” for ocean beaches in the area to come up in the red.
The same generally holds true for Assateague.
“If there’s been a herd of ponies hanging around for 24 hours and there hasn’t been much surf there may be a possibility that they might get a higher reading down there, but very rarely on the ocean side,” Phillips said.  
“It’s basically awareness,” she added. “It’s a public service that we provide to try to make it easier for them to know is it safe to swim or not. Know before you go.”
ACT does, however, occasionally take action when readings remain elevated in a particular area.
“There’s a kayak launch on the northern part of Ayers Creek and we consistently get readings that are over the state safety standard – sometimes extremely high, but most of the time just consistently elevated,” Phillips said. “I’ve let [the Maryland Department of the Environment] and the county know about that.”
Phillips also underscored the notion that, while ACT offers plenty of information on water quality, its mission is not to “keep people out of the water.”
“Our whole mission is to keep the water swimmable and fishable,” she said. “We want to keep people in the water.”
ACT will hold its fourth annual Wade-in at Isle of Wight Bay on July 31, followed by two events in August: Float for the Coast – A Kayaktivism Event at Fish Tales, on Aug. 14, and Coast Kids: Canoeing on the Pocomoke River, on Aug. 22.
Swim Guide is available on both iOS and Android devices. For more information, visit www.actforbays. org.