Bathing Beach Water Quality

Between late May and Labor Day, the Department’s fleet of four beach samplers collect up to 30 marine and fresh water samples and have them back to the laboratory for bacteriological analysis before the end of every work day.  In sometimes inclement weather conditions, samplers drive from one beach to the next collecting samples, taking down valuable observations, and answering questions from curious onlookers.  Upon accomplishing their mission they return to the lab where they have been trained to perform analysis on the samples collected.

The Bathing Beach Monitoring Program serves 15 towns Cape-wide; one sample is collected from every operational town beach on a weekly basis per Massachusetts regulations. Semi-public beaches (beaches that have common access and/or common use by an organization such as a homeowner’s association or hotel/motel) also are required to comply with the regulations and many choose to participate in the program as well.  When bacteria levels in any one of these samples exceeds the allowable limits, the town health agents and/or semi-public operators are notified to close their beach and samplers immediately gather re-tests to ensure that the beach may be re-opened as soon as results are favorable. Collectively, the samplers are responsible for sampling beach water at over 350 Cape Cod beaches every week.

In 2014, the task of overseeing this extensive program was continued by Bethany Sadlowski, Environmental Project Assistant.  Supervising a seasonal staff of four bathing Beach Sampler/Analysts, Ms. Sadlowski coordinated the sampling and reporting necessary to maintain compliance with the Massachusetts State Sanitary Code for Bathing Beaches, which also requires all towns and semi-public beach operators to permit their beaches and install permanent signs indicating dates of operation, contact information for the beach operator, the permit number, and sampling dates.  Since 2010, the Department has assisted towns and semi-public operators by offering to permit semi-public beaches in towns that chose not to require a permitting fee.  Furthermore, the Department provided replacement signs that had been designed, commissioned, and produced in 2010 to meet the new regulatory requirements at the lowest possible cost.  The signs were utilized Cape-wide for a fifth year.

Routine monitoring of public and semi-public beaches was performed with follow-up assistance where violations of bacteria standards were observed.  Over 4,300 samples were collected and processed during the summer bathing season from 251 marine and 108 freshwater beaches on Cape Cod.  Testing results were published real-time and daily on the Department website as well as the state Department of Public Health statewide beach website.  During the off season, the Department maintains a yearly summary of information for all public beaches and issues annual reports to the respective town boards of health.  Recommendations for follow-up measures in order to reduce public health risks were rendered when necessary.