Survey rates NJ beaches, Beachwood bans swimming

Beachwood lifeguards hung advisory signs Friday. There’s no swimming permitted at the town’s bayfront beach because of high fecal bacteria counts in the water. It’s been closed to swimmers for three weeks.

Local councilman Gerry LaCrosse feels exasperated after his town once again topped Environment New Jersey’s survey of the state’s dirtiest beaches. He says a cracked sewer line could be contaminating stormwater that flows from an underground pipe right into Barnegat Bay.

“Every time there’s a rainstorm that goes above one-tenth of an inch, we close the beach automatically,” LaCrosse said.

They’ve just hired environmental consultants with dogs trained to sniff out fecal matter.

“With the dogs that are going to be assisting us, and the Ocean County Health Department to go to all the locations around here where we have these outfall pipes and drain pipes to see if there has been any cross contamination. And then we’ll try to track it back from there using dyes of whatever method they have,” he said.

Environment New Jersey’s annual survey shows most of Jersey’s oceanside beaches had few or no days when fecal bacteria exceeded federal safety limits last year. Problem spots occurred along back bays, like Barnegat, where runoff pollution accumulates.

“The Barnegat Bay essentially serves as a massive stormwater detention basin when it rains,” Environment New Jersey State Director Doug O’Malley said. “And then it sits there, and that leads to pollution exceedances for bacteria where it is unsafe to go into the water.”

How often? Beachwood and two other bayside beaches, Barnegat Light and Windward in Brick, led the list with up to half of testing days showing potentially unsafe water. It’s not a new problem. Bacteria sampling from a 2011 Monmouth University survey concluded Beachwood “… has a serious issue that needs to be addressed … It is possible that a septic system is leaking or there is an illegal cross connection.”

Beachwood’s been on the National Resources Defense Council’s “Dirtiest Beaches in America” list for a decade. While the town installed bubblers to agitate the water, and lifeguards rake up duck and dog deposits daily, bacteria counts remain elevated.

“And we said look, until we get this thing straightened out, we’re going to close the beach,” LaCrosse said. “If we can locate the source of this pollution, bingo, we’ll be back open.”

The councilman said Beachwood’s expecting to spend maybe $1 million on trying to fix the problems. Meanwhile, he says the beach is not expected to reopen for swimming until perhaps next summer.