In Need of a Swim in Throggs Neck

August 20th, 2008 Posted in Ask Ivy

Dear Ivy,
In the past, on a hot and humid day I have attempted to cool off by going for a swim at one of our many city beaches only to find out that they water was off limits that day. Why would city officials want us to sweat to death on such hot days? A nice dip in the ocean is the easiest and cheapest way to cool off.
In Need of a Swim in Throggs Neck

Dear In Need of Swim:

When New York City closes public beaches, they are doing it for your own health and safety — trust me it’s not because they want you to sweat off those few extra pounds. Most beach closing and advisories are the result of bacteriological contamination. Where does this bacteria come from? The biggest threat to our waterways is the City’s combined sewer and stormwater system where heavy rainfalls overwhelm the sewage plants and cause untreated sewage and stormwater to flow directly into our waterways. It only takes one-tenth of an inch of rain to cause this to happen. Do you want to swim alongside untreated sewage? Probably not, that’s why City Officials will sometimes see it fit to close beaches for health concerns.

The city tests most beaches for bacteria once a week and uses the results to determine if they are safe for swimming. According to a report from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which oversees bacteria testing in the city’s waterways, the city did not close any beaches due to water quality in 2007. However, it did issue 24 wet weather advisories which are pre-emptive warnings to the public to avoid the water after heavy rainfalls.

The city is working on making our beaches safer. Part of Bloomberg’s PlaNYC 2030 plan requires that 90 percent of the city waterways be clean enough for recreation use by 2030, and even though many BCEQers think it is not fast enough, it is a step in the right direction. As BCEQ modeled on the rooftop at St. Simon Stock, the city is working on increasing the number of green roofs and porous pavement through the five boroughs to help capture runoff in the sewers, or even before.

What can you do to help keep our beaches open on hot summer days? First you need to remember that whatever is discharged into the street or on the ground flows to a storm drain and eventually makes its way to the ocean. Therefore, next time you finish that candy bar make sure that wrapper ends up in a garbage can. Otherwise, next time you are swimming at Orchard Beach you may see it floating beside you. While you are at the beach help keep them clean by picking-up after yourself. It will take all New Yorkers working together to ensure that are waterways are safe for swimming and that are beaches are clean so that our families can continue to ensure the luxury of taking a dip at a local beach.


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