Thursday, July 3, 2008

Back to Being Technical - or how nice our beaches are

So I go back to the lab scene, because the weather is so nice and the newspapers are calling because they have to have a distraction from all the oil news. Of course, it isn't proper that I talk to reporters directly without them going through proper channels, which they don't ever seem to want to take the time to do, so here is the simple story in all its technical detail.
The City of Stamford has, since 1989, closed its beaches after heavy rains of 1 or more inches for 24 hours. We did this, not because of sewage come from the treatment plant (which is actually very well run and really hasn't had any significant problems in a very, very, very long time), but because Stamford (surprise, surprise), is very developed along the shore for several miles in and something called urban run-off and we have an intricate and complete set of storm drains which moves all that water from a storm directly to the Sound, without any treatment. Now back in 1989, the storm drains themselves were home to a huge population of raccoons, which added to the problem (this changed in 1991 when rabies crossed the Hudson River and decreased the population by 95%), but the problem is still we are too developed and all the stuff on the concrete and sidewalks gets washed down (I am not talking about dog poo, just everything that has bacteria).
To do this was a lot of work (trust me, I did most of it) and we were not trying to predict how much the bacteria levels would rise, just that the chance that they would be over the safe health limits for swimmers was fairly high after an inch of rain. Additionally, we found out that the natural course of things cleared it all out after 20 hours plus or minus 4 hours, so they stay closed for 24.
Now after 20 years of having this in place, everyone else is jumping on the bandwagon and trying to do this predictive modeling and figure out why it is happening.
They are finding that this bacteria we test for lives in the sand (yeah, we did that also) and the increased wave action from the storm will elevate it.
They described what urban run-off was and all the other things that we did back then are all about, so now its big news.
And what do the papers want to know? How often we have been closed this year.
Twice - we have had 2 heavy rains and the beaches were closed twice.
Having said that, everyone should know that the water for 2 weeks has been beautiful, very clear and so little bacteria that you could almost drink it, but don't.
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