Tag Archives: beaches

Parks Water Quality Unit: Keeping Watch on our Beaches and Waterbodies

It’s finally June, which means the Water Quality Unit at New York State Parks is out in full swing for the 2019 summer season.  Each year, staff from the Water Quality Unit coordinate water quality monitoring programs for many of the waterbodies within Park boundaries.  A substantial portion of State Parks attendance is associated with recreational water use, so it is important to ensure the beaches are operated in a manner that is both safe for patrons and that protects this valuable resource for future use. The Beach program oversees weekly bacteriological sampling at 96 sampling stations within 60 parks, provides water quality training to Park staff, works on collaborative studies with other agencies, and ensures compliance with the Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) protocol.  Keep reading for an overview of each of these responsibilities!

Beach Locations

New York State Park Beaches are located across the entire state – from end to end and top to bottom; on small inland lakes, the Finger Lakes, the Great Lakes, the Niagara and St. Lawrence Rivers, and on the Ocean.  This link will take you to the State Parks webpage where you can search for a beach near you or one you want to visit.

Moreau
Beachgoers relax at Moreau Lake State Park

Weekly Sampling

Each guarded beach is sampled a minimum of once a week for E. coli (freshwater) or Enterococci (marine) bacteriological indicators during the swim season.  The EPA defined regulatory limit for exceedances are greater than 235 E. coli colonies per 100 ml, and greater than 104 Enterococci colonies per 100 ml.  If a sample comes back over the regulatory limit, the beach is sampled again, until a satisfactory result is reported by the certified laboratory.  State Parks defines two categories of beaches: Category 1 (must resample and may remain open), and Category 2 (must resample and close immediately).  Click here to learn more about beach categories and closure criteria.  The data collected for the beach water quality program is carefully entered into large databases that are used for report generation, data evaluation, and reporting to regulatory agencies that in turn provide funding for beach sampling.

Beach Water Quality Training and Education

The Water Quality Unit provides regional trainings to park staff on how to properly collect a water sample, when to close or re-open a beach, and how to identify specific algae. The unit also conducts sanitary surveys to identify potential pollution sources and assists staff with site-specific questions and needs.  In addition, the unit develops and/or distributes educational materials on potential waterborne illnesses and other water-related topics.

Water Quality Collaborations

The Water Quality Unit routinely collaborates with other agencies and organizations such as the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and colleges and universities on subjects such as E. coli predictive modeling and HAB occurrences.  State Parks collects and shares data with these agencies to help further current research.  Check out this link Cornell at Work in NYS Parks to see Professor Ruth Richardson from Cornell University at work in Buttermilk Falls State Park testing out a new technology!

SmartPhone
Staffer checks water quality data on smartphone.

Harmful Algal Blooms

Research on the occurrence of HABs is still in full bloom both in the United States and worldwide.  In past years, State Parks has seen HABs on our beloved lakes and beaches, sometimes for the first time ever noted.  While this can be a startling discovery on a beautiful morning, be secure in knowing that State Parks has in place a firm reporting and response protocol for blooms observed both at beaches and non-beaches.  State Parks follows guidance from the NYSDOH and NYSDEC in closing and re-opening beaches suffering from a HAB, and in posting signage and warning the public of an existing HAB on a State Park waterbody.

To learn what harmful algal blooms look like, click here for a link to last year’s blog on HABs and a summary of the concentrated effort being made in New York State to address HAB occurrences.

Post by Amy LaBarge, Ocean and Great Lakes Beach Water Quality Coordinator

Harmful Algal Blooms: New York State Takes Action in 2018!

There has been a lot of activity in New York State this spring regarding Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs)!  In an effort to raise awareness regarding HABS, Governor Cuomo called together four HAB Summit Meetings across the State (February 27 in New Paltz, March 6 at SUNY ESF, March 20 in Ticonderoga, and March 26 in Rochester).  Leading experts from the Department of Health (DOH), Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Department of Agriculture and Markets (DAM) and other state and national experts convened to discuss and address the causes of algal blooms in 12 priority waterbodies across the state.  The meetings were the first step in the development of action plans to address HAB occurrences in each waterbody.  Of the 12 priority waterbodies chosen as part of the Governor’s initiative to combat HABs, five of them are the home of State Park’s beaches, marinas, or campgrounds (Conesus Lake, Honeoye Lake, Chautauqua Lake, Cayuga Lake and Lake Champlain).  The action plans will be used to implement monitoring and treatment projects related to HABS.

What’s the problem with HABs?

You might see a couple of different terms used in association with HABs, but they mean the same thing: cyanobacteria and blue green algae are used interchangeably.  The term “blue-green algae” is a misnomer; it is not truly algae. It is a type of bacteria called cyanobacteria that is capable of photosynthesis. An algal “bloom” consists of cyanobacteria in great enough numbers of cells to be seen by the naked eye.  Some algal blooms can produce toxins, but not all do.  When an algal bloom produces toxins, it is called a Harmful Algal Bloom.  HABs can thrive when certain conditions are met, including warm weather, stagnant water, and sufficient nutrients in the water body.  The bacteria can form dense mats on the surface of a lake or can be suspended in the water column. The blooms can be brightly colored and look like pea soup, spilled paint, or an oily scum/sheen that coats the lake surface.  The blooms move around the lake in response to wind and currents, tend to accumulate at shorelines, and can move vertically in the water column to find the perfect nutrient and temperature conditions to flourish.  Blooms occur most often in waters high in phosphorous and/or nitrogen, and research is ramping up to determine the exact causes of algal blooms.

Because of the potential for blooms to produce toxins, it is important to keep people and pets out of the water during a bloom.  The toxins can make people and animals sick, and toxin exposure can cause a range of symptoms, including rashes, respiratory irritation, gastrointestinal troubles, and effects on the liver. HABs may also impact drinking water and recreational activities, and can cause unpleasant odors.

It is State Parks Policy to follow the DOH protocol and close bathing beaches when a HAB is present.  To re-open a beach at a State Park, the beach must be free of any signs of a bloom for 24 hours, and a water sample must be submitted for toxin analysis.

The Big Message for the 2018 Beach Season

Know it, Avoid it, Report it.  Learn what a bloom looks like, avoid it, and make sure to report it to the Park Manager if you see a potential bloom at a State Park.  You can also notify the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, or harmfulalgae@health.ny.gov

HAB Photos from State Parks:

HAB

Below are a few links to learn more about HABs!

NYS Department of Health: Harmful Blue-Green Algae Blooms

Environmental Protection Agency: Cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms in Water

NYS Department of Environmental Conservation: Harmful Algal Blooms

Sand: The Beaches’ Hidden Treasures

Fourth of July is nearly upon us and it is time to hit the beach!  And beaches mean sand – sand to build sand castles, sand that tickles your toes during beach strolls, and sand for beach volleyball and bocce.

But what is beach sand?  According to http://www.merriam-webster.com, sand is “a loose granular material that results from the disintegration of rocks, consists of particles smaller than gravel but coarser than silt.”  These small particles are less than 1/10th of an inch in diameter.  The mineral makeup of individual sand particles depends on local and regional rocks, which are eroded by ice and rain, then carried to the ocean by rivers where they are deposited on gently sloping beaches. The size of individual sand particles is dependent on the slope of the beach, both above and below waterline. The color of beach sand is influenced by nearby landscapes and ocean bottom.

In New York, many beaches have a variety of minerals including quartz, white or clear particles; feldspar, buff-colored particles; and magnetite, black particles.  On beaches around the world you will find lava (black beaches), coral (pink beaches), garnet (purple beaches), olivine crystals (green beaches) and more. Some beaches have unique sand such as the orange Kerala coast beach sand in India.

New York State Parks have over 65 beaches on lakes, ponds, rivers, bays, and the Atlantic Ocean.  Let’s take a closer look at the sands on a few of those beaches …

Along Lake Erie

Evangola Beach Sand

The sand on the beach at Evangola State Park in southern Erie County is principally quartz, feldspar, magnetite, with smaller amounts of garnet, calcite, ilmenite, and hornblende.  All of the particles are approximately the same size.

Along Lake Ontario

Hamlin_Beach Sand

Located northwest of Rochester, Hamlin Beach State Park beach sands are mostly quartz, hypersthene (brown and gray), and augite (greenish).

On Long Island

Jones_Beach Sand A

Jones Beach State Park has 6-1/2 miles of Atlantic Ocean shoreline; different sections of beach have slightly different sands.  Some parts of the beach have sand that is mostly comprised of quartz with a little feldspar and tiny shell fragments.  Note that the clear quartz particles have different sizes.

Jones_Beach Sand B

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other sections of beach at Jones Beach State Park have quartz, garnet, and magnetite sand with a few tiny shell fragments. All of the particles are about the same size.

Robert_Moses Sand

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beach at Robert Moses State Park, also on the Atlantic Ocean side, is mixture of quartz, garnet, magnetite, and shells. The shell in the photo is about 1/3” long; larger glass piece is about 1/6” long.

Napeague_Beach Sand

The beaches on the north side of Napeague State Park and Hither Hills State Park are along Napeague Bay. Here the sands contain magnetite and garnet which give the sand a purplish hue.

Bring your magnifying glass the next time you head to a NYS Parks beach.  You might be surprised at what you see when you take an up-close look at the sand.

Thanks for Anne McIntyre, Dave McQuay, and Megan Philips for their help with collecting sand samples for this article.

Post and sand photos by Susan Carver, OPRHP.

Learn more at:

Coastal Care: http://coastalcare.org/2010/10/dream-in-color-on-the-worlds-rainbow-beaches/

International Sand Collector’s Society: http://www.sandcollectors.org/SANDMAN/The_Hobby_of_x.html

Sand Atlas: http://www.sandatlas.org/sand-types/

Pilkey, Orrin H., William J Neal, Joseph T. Kelley, & J. Andrew G. Cooper; The World’s Beaches : A Global Guide to the Science of the Shoreline; University of California Press, Berkeley, 2011.

 

Staff Spotlight: Water Quality Unit

Each year staff from NYS Parks’ Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) Water Quality Unit coordinates water quality monitoring programs for State Park beaches and lakes.  The overall goal of EMB’s Water Quality Unit is to balance safe and enjoyable recreational opportunities with the environmental protection of our water resources. Since a substantial portion of attendance within the State Park system is associated with water use and enjoyment, it is important to assure that these facilities are operated in a manner that is both safe for patrons and protects the resource for future visitors. Water resources also need protection since they provide critical habitat for wildlife and ensure the proper functioning of ecosystem-level processes.

Keeping Park Beaches Healthy

NYS State Parks operates 77 beaches with lifeguards at 60 state parks. These beaches are located on lakes (including small lakes found within the borders of state parks, the Finger Lakes, Lake Chautauqua, Lake Champlain, and the Great Lakes), streams (including Enfield Creek and Dry Creek), rivers (including the Niagara and St. Lawrence), and the ocean (including the open ocean, bays, and Long Island Sound).

To keep the beaches healthy, NYS Parks staff must properly maintain beaches, monitor water quality, close when necessary, train staff, and educate patrons about safe swimming practices. Some of the tasks that Water Quality Unit staff do to help sites safely operate beaches include:

  • provide water quality training and assist park staff with site-specific questions and needs
  • distribute water quality educational materials
  • conduct research studies to learn more about the water quality of select beaches
  • maintain databases of beach monitoring results, contacts, and closures
  • work with outside Agencies (e.g. DOH, EPA, USGS) to develop models of beach water quality and expand knowledge on beaches

Maintaining Healthy Lakes in NYS Parks

There are approximately 180 lakes and ponds in the State Park system. These lakes provide important habitat for fish and wildlife and are enjoyed by many park visitors each year.

EMB staff have monitored over 125 lakes, ponds, and reservoirs since 1999. The goals of EMB’s lake monitoring program are to:

  • conduct targeted monitoring studies of lakes of significance or concern
  • maintain databases on lake water quality
  • compile lake reports regarding lake characteristics for priority sites
  • determine the degree of impairment, if any, for each lake
  • assist regional and park staff in lake restoration projects and with site-specific questions and needs

2012 Water Quality Team Distinguished Service Award

Commissioner Rose Harvey presented EMB’s Water Quality Team with a Distinguished Service Award for their extraordinary team accomplishment and dedicated professional service in working to protect NYS Parks streams, lakes and bathing beaches.

For more information about the Water Quality Team’s work in NYS Parks please contact the Environmental Management Bureau.

Post by Susan Carver, OPRHP. Photos by John Rozell and Water Quality Unit.