Monitoring water quality at the beach; a behind the scenes look with RI Dept. of Health


WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island isn’t called the “Ocean State” for nothing, it’s home to 400-miles of coastline.

The Rhode Island Department of Health is tasked with testing the water quality of many of the state’s beaches.

Eyewitness News caught up with Jillian Chopy at Oakland Beach on Wednesday morning where she was sampling the water.

“Today we are going through and finding three sampling spots, collecting 800mL bottle of water. Then bringing it back to the lab to have it sampled for enterococcus levels,” said Chopy, an environmental health scholar.

What is “Enterococcus“? They are high bacteria levels according to Chopy, “sometimes found from run-off in wastewater. This can be led from off-shore or in-shore. We find it important to collect it (water samples) and close the beach properly if found.”

She explains there are tier I, II, and III beaches when it comes to testing the water quality.

A tier one beach are locations that have a higher risk of seeing higher bacteria levels in the water.

Like Oakland Beach in Warwick, it’s tested twice a week. As of August 7th, Oakland Beach has seen zero beach closures for Summer 2019.

Tier two & three beaches are only tested monthly.

But, if the forecast is calling for rain, Chopy explains there will be a need for extra testing.

“Typically with over a half an inch of rain, we do require additional sampling,” she said. “Just because that can cause the extra run-off.”

While at Oakland Beach, Chopy collected three samples of water. She waded out into the water, about waist deep, collected the samples then put them into a chilled cooler.

“We bring them to the Department of Health laboratory in Providence where they will test them for high levels. They will then send us back the report the following day,” she said.

If there are high levels of bacteria found, a section, or the entire beach will be closed down until further tests are done.

Find the latest beach closures here »

“After we have closed a beach, it’s typical that a beach manager or their workers will then bring us a separate sample in,” said Chopy.

This way the lab can re-test and, if clear of bacteria, the beaches can re-open as soon as possible.

Those exposed to the bacteria can develop flu-like symptoms that need to be treated by a doctor.

That is why testing the water is critical.

According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, 2018 saw 135 beach closures. That is a far cry from 2003, that year saw 503 beach closures.

Historically, beach closures in Rhode Island have been closely tied to precipitation. Stormwater runoff from roads, parking lots, and other impervious surfaces transports contamination (including bacteria) to our fresh and salt-water bodies.

Rhode Island Department of Health

Is that ‘Ride Tide’ or just seaweed?

On a separate topic, Jillian Chopy wanted to crush this misconception when it comes to red tide.

“We get multiple calls a week at least saying a beachgoer has seen some red tide. But they aren’t seeing red tide, it’s just red seaweed,” according to Chopy.

“It (the seaweed) can hold bacteria, but red tide is something significantly different.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, red tide is a harmful algal bloom of microscopic algae that produces toxins that kill fish and make shellfish dangerous to eat. ” The toxins may also make the surrounding air difficult to breathe. As the name suggests, the bloom of algae often turns the water red,” NOAA said on its website.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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