After Hurricane Irene, Water Quality Worries Arise
Stormwater from inland could degrade ocean water quality
As New Jersey begins to reassemble itself after Hurricane Irene's weekend of destruction, concerns have been raised over the quality of ocean water.
On August 26, one day before the effects of Hurricane Irene began along the Jersey Shore, New Jersey Department of Environmental Commissioner Bob Martin signed an order closing shellfish beds statewide.
"This predicted precipitation, high winds and storm surge will likely result in significant flooding, power outages, sewage bypasses and sanitary sewer overflows resulting in degraded water quality," the order read.
One such sewerage spill has already been reported in Monmouth County.
According to the DEP run website NJBeaches.org, a sewer line dumped into Wesley Lake, between Asbury Park and Ocean Grove, which empties into the ocean. As a result, beaches between First Avenue in Asbury Park and Spray Avenue in Ocean Grove have been closed.
But it doesn't always take a sewerage leak to close beaches.
In significant weather events like this weekend's bout with Irene, heavy rains can wash bacteria and other pollutants into rivers and other inland bodies of water. As those waters drain into the ocean, they can create hazards for swimmers.
In an average rain event, it may take as long as 72 hours for polluted waters to clear, but as any resident of the Jersey Shore will tell you— Hurricane Irene was anything but average.
Irene choked lakes, rivers and bays throughout New Jersey and a heavy onshore storm surge from the ocean prevented those bodies from draining throughout the duration of the storm. A flood warning issued by the National Weather Service is in effect on Monday and it will likely be several days before most inland bodies of water return to pre-hurricane levels. For those looking to enter the ocean, that means several days of possibly compromised water.
While the DEP has yet to issue a statewide order closing the ocean to swimmers as they did in closing shellfish beds, DEP Spokesman Lawrence Ragonese explained that common sense must prevail.
"From a prudent point of view, I think it might be wise for everyone to stay out of the ocean," Ragonese said, explaining that the DEP, in cooperation with counties and municipalities along the shore are currently assessing any impacts on water quality due to the storm.
Ragonese says that turbidity in the water due to the storm makes testing difficult.
"We need the water to calm down a bit to get accurate sampling," he said.
The DEP has reported that routine water sampling in both Monmouth and Ocean counties has been postponed until Tuesday.
"If you're smart, you probably stay out of the ocean today," he added.
And for most at the Jersey Shore, staying out of the ocean won't be a problem.
Municipalities up and down the coast have closed their beachfronts on Monday in light of Irene. Should they decide to open beaches, its likely that they would fly red flags to prohibit swimming, as lingering swells from the hurricane's passage have created ocean conditions that may be hazardous for swimmers.
One segment of the oceangoing population who may find themselves in a compromising position is surfers.
While the rainy weather that causes outflow ocean pollution tends to keep swimmers away, it is precisely these conditions that create the elevated wave heights that surfers look for.
"There's an increased risk," John Weber of the Surfrider Foundation Jersey Shore Chapter said, noting that there are some conditions which should help keep the water clean.
"What's on our side is a stiff offshore wind," he said, noting the hard, west wind that persisted through the afternoon on Sunday following Hurricane Irene's departure. Westerly winds continued on Monday and are forecasted to last throughout the week.
Weber explained that anyone who enters the water should stay alert for telltale signs of degraded water which include brown, hazy patches as well as abnormal water consistency and odor. He also cautioned avoiding inlets and areas where lakes or street drains outflow.
In response to a growing number of health issues among surfers who ventured into the water after rain events, the non-profit organization began its Sick Surfer Initiative.
Surfrider has begun collecting data from surfers who have become ill after surfing including the date and time of their surf session, the location and their symptoms.
While the information they have collected is still in raw form, they have identified a correlation between rain events and illness reports.
Water quality concerns did not stop surfers from taking advantage of massive swells following Hurricane Irene.
Surfers flocked to the roadblocked Manasquan beachfront on foot to charge large waves at Manasquan Inlet.