Study Finds Water Bacteria Levels Spike From Stormwater Runoff

A July 30 article details a study conducted by a consortium of journalism students who found that after moderate to heavy rains, portions of the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries were so contaminated with bacteria from stormwater runoff  that they were unsafe to swim in.  In some instances, the level of bacteria was higher than that found in a dirty toilet.

Swimming in the rivers that feed the Chesapeake Bay after a hard rain could be as hazardous to your health as hopping into an unflushed toilet.

That was a key finding of a water quality experiment conducted this month by reporters at the University of Maryland working for News21, a national consortium of journalism schools.

The team took water samples before and after significant rainfall at seven beaches and recreation spots along five rivers that feed the Chesapeake. Their goal was to gauge the impact of storm water — one of the fastest-growing pollution sources in the Chesapeake Bay — on bacteria levels in the water.

For comparison, the team also took two water samples from a household toilet–one while it was clean, and another after human feces had sat in it for four hours.

After the rain on July 15, the tests showed that three of the seven sites had bacteria levels far higher than Maryland and Virginia standards for safe recreation, and five were above the level for safe swimming. Two — Savage Park in Howard County and Middle Branch Park in Baltimore — had bacteria levels much higher than the dirty toilet.

And all but one site — the Inner Harbor of Baltimore — showed a rise in bacteria levels following the rain. …

But even the Inner Harbor sample was higher than the allowable level for safe swimming.

July 27 Washington Post Column

July 27 Baltimore Sun Blog Post

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