Swimmers should avoid contact with tidal and fresh water for 48 hours after a big rain storm this summer, warns the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
The precaution is suggested by state and county health departments, but foundation officials believe it's not widely known by the public. The foundation says runoff makes the water unsafe, and the large fish kills already seen this year could be a sign that poor water quality is arriving earlier than usual.
"I'm amazed how few people know our water can be unhealthy for days after a storm. This important information isn't getting out there, but it needs to," said Alison Prost, the foundation's Maryland executive director, in a statement. "A summer thunderstorm flushes pollution from our urban and suburban landscapes into nearby creeks, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. Bacteria from failing septic systems, pet waste, or manure can end up in waters where we swim or recreate."
The state requires county health department to test the water from public beaches and tell the public when bacteria levels are high. But they don't necessarily have to do the test right after a storm.
Just with regular testing, there were 439 instances last summer when high amounts of bacteria were found. The bacteria can cause minor stomach illnesses and even life-threatening skin and blood infections and intestinal ailments. Summer algae blooms can also cause liver disease, skin rashes, nausea and vomiting, the foundation said.