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Niagara County Department of Health: Analysis of bathing beach samples in Niagara County

by jmaloni
Fri, Sep 28th 2012 08:10 pm

Submitted by the Niagara County Department of Health

Over the past two bathing seasons, the Niagara County Department of Health has been gathering data in an attempt to determine the source of the high bacteria counts in bathing beach waters of Olcott/Krull Park. The persistently high counts prompted NCDOH to order multiple closures of the bathing beach to assure human safety. As part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the New York State Department of Health has been providing funding to NCDOH to help support the efforts of the Division of Environmental Health in collecting and testing beach water samples and further investigating the causes of the high bacteria levels.

In August of this year, the NCDOH collected a series of water samples to test for the presence of types of bacteria commonly found in the feces of humans and other warm-blooded animals. Fecal bacteria are normally present in our environment. However, the presence of increased fecal germs in recreational water may indicate bacterial pollution that may cause illness in people who swim or recreate in bacteria-contaminated water. Sampling and testing for special bacteria (bacteriodes) can help determine whether the source of the bacteria is human or animal. The prerequisite for collecting samples for special bacteria analysis is the presence of high bacterial counts during routine beach water sampling. After collecting a high bacterial count sample meeting the criteria, NCDOH was able to submit samples to the environmental biology laboratory of the NYSDOH Wadsworth Center for analysis. The laboratory results ruled out a human or water bird source of the fecal bacteria found in the water for those three samples submitted for analysis. The test results point to an animal source of water contamination such as cattle, goats, sheep or deer.

These results represent a snapshot in time and are not considered conclusive. The 2012 bathing season was not your typical season with abundant dry, hot and sunny weather. The beach at Olcott/Krull Park was closed on three occasions totaling seven days this year, as opposed to eight occasions and 20 days in 2011. It is not possible to draw any concrete conclusions based upon this one-time sampling. This data will add to the data already collected and yet to be collected in order to fully evaluate this issue.

The (Niagara County Health) Department is continuing to sample the beach at Olcott/Krull Park on a weekly basis for bacteria. The results have been satisfactory for the first three weeks in September.

It is noted that the department is working with Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Niagara County Farm Bureau, the New York State Farm Bureau and the Niagara County Soil and Water Conservation District to investigate animal sources in the watershed. Also, the department continues to work with the Town of Newfane on all issues surrounding our investigation at the beach and in the watershed. We are also working with the NYSDOH and Wadsworth lab to plan for 2013 sampling events. 2013 sampling events will involve additional beach and watershed samplings and site investigations associated with factors mentioned below to better define their role, if any, in the beach bacterial closure events. Other sources of bacteria to be further investigated include beach sand, algae, sediment, sewage overflows and storm water runoff. The analysis of this problem is complicated by the many factors that can influence conditions at the beach. Wind direction and speed, rainfall, current direction, lake turnover, water temperature, algae, turbidity, watershed conditions and sediment disturbance all can play a role in the bacteria found at the beach, and each will be studied further as we attempt to address the issue of high bacteria levels at the beach. As a further study area in 2012, we have received permission to submit a sediment sample from the beach, which will be analyzed for special bacterial (bacteriodes) to further investigate sediment disturbance associated with beach water quality. This sampling will occur within the next week with results expected in October.                   

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