Bacterial Contamination in Long Island Sound: Improving Water Quality in the Clark Avenue Beach Neighborhood, Town of Branford.

Citizen Science
Oral Presentation

Prepared by M. Pascucilla1, R. Dubrow2
1 - East Shore District Health Department, East Shore District Health Department, 688 East Main Street, Branford, Connecticut, 06405, United States
2 - Yale University, P.O. Box 208034, New Haven, Connecticut, 065520-8034, United States

Contact Information: [email protected]; 203-619-1286


The East Shore District Health Department (ESDHD) is committed to improving the health and well-being of the residents of Branford, East Haven, and North Branford. The Health District uses the framework of the Ten Essential Functions of Public Health in its planning and service delivery to its member towns. We strive to meet and provide the ten nationally recognized services expected of a local public health agency.

ESDHD works with the State of CT and the CT shoreline communities to carry out the state mandated responsibilities and fulfill the essential services of a local health system.

Our main responsibilities consist of:
• Assuring the conditions in which people can be healthy
• Promoting physical and mental health
• Preventing disease, injury and disability

Our public health/environmental programs enable every resident to have healthy living conditions. Our health promotion programs educate and encourage the community to adopt healthy behaviors and prevent adverse behaviors. Our philosophy is to empower our communities to improve their personal health as well as offer programing to advance the health of the community as a whole. Disease control and prevention activities include vaccinations/community clinical services to include population public health education, material child health wellness, preparedness and environmental programing interventions.

Project Description:

The ESDHD performs weekly bacterial testing in Long Island Sound (LIS) bathing water during the bathing season. In addition, since water quality is known to be detrimentally compromised after a heavy rainstorm event, the department samples a runoff pipe that discharges directly into the Clark Avenue beach area. Beaches are closed or re-opened based on results of bacterial testing. This shoreline neighborhood of Short Beach located in Branford has been experiencing unusually high spikes of bacteria, even in dry weather conditions in recent years. This beach is also directly impacted by the Farm River Watershed.

Clark Avenue/Riverside Drive is an area in the Town of Branford. The Short Beach community along the LIS/Clark Avenue Beach is densely populated and characterized by small lots and exposed ledge-rock. Residential houses located in this community are connected to public sewers, on-site subsurface sewage disposal (septic) systems (SSDS) and holding tanks. It should be noted that there are a number of aging holding tanks without no auto-alarm systems or scheduled maintenance requirements to pump-out.

Holding tanks are typically septic tanks that do not discharge into a leaching system; they are designed to contain/hold all wastewater (bathroom, kitchen, washing machine, etc…) and be pumped out every few days to several weeks, depending on the water usage of the residential dwelling.

The Town of Branford has a septic pump-out program where residents connected to septic systems can get a pump-out every 3 years for a nominal fee. Property owners with holding tanks can also work with the Town of Branford on getting their holding tanks pumped-out weekly also.

Citizen Science Initiative:

As part of this project, ESDHD will be working in collaboration with the Clark Avenue Neighborhood and the Short Beach Association so as to be completely transparent on all aspects of this project. In the spirit of democracy, ESDHD will engage a group of volunteer residents within this community to assist in the true decision-making process for policy change recommendations based on solid science, data and other statistical information collected to improve the water quality of the community. Together, ESDHD and Yale University will train and involve the residents in all phases of this project, to include hands-on field sampling, data collection and interpretation, community meeting forums, to include the final research report in order to empower and encourage civic involvement. Through citizen science engagement, our goal is to leverage our partnership with the community, as they are the eyes and ears of their neighborhood with the vision to use citizen science to support the residents in independently reaching solutions to local environmental concerns of the water quality that is impacting their local ecosystem.

Aim 1:

Based on retrospective data, examine the relationship between weather-related and other variables and level of bacterial contamination in Long Island Sound bathing water. The status of the shellfish beds should also be noted and compared to evaluate a causational relationship. Literature review of water quality data records and update as necessary. Town record analysis to identify property location of the type of sewage waste disposal - holding tanks, SSDS’s or public sewer to include GIS mapping, Bathing/shellfish records review of the Department of Agriculture/ Bureau of Aquaculture (DOA/BOA) 2018 Sanitary survey results. Maybe an opportunity to assist in the ESDHD and DOA on finalizing the sanitary survey of the Branford Coastal neighborhoods and Thimble Islands.

Aim 2:

Sanitary survey and hands-on field water quality sampling will be necessary in different outdoor weather conditions. ESDHD will train interns on current State and EPA field sampling methodology. *Delivery samples to State lab in a timely manner as necessary per State/EPA protocol.

Aim 3:

Community outreach meetings will be necessary to provide residents an opportunity to be informed and assist our agency towards fair, practical solutions and behavior changes to improve water quality for their local community. Also inform residents of the new Preemptive Beach Closure Policy.

Aim 4:

Given the solutions to improve water quality will involve multi-local and state agencies, there will be opportunities to attend meetings with our partners towards both short-term and long-term final resolution. There is an opportunity to participate in a Farm River Watershed project that was selected by the USDA’s National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI) – Partnership meetings start in January 2019.

Aim 5:
Research essay and poster, to include a presentation of the finding to all local health departments at the Connecticut State Annual Bathing Water Meeting and the ESDHD Board of Directors. Other presentation meeting opportunities as available and willing.

*Note: Any cost incurred for mileage for sample collection and delivery will be reimbursed by ESDHD.

Expected Work-Product and Deliverables Summary:

The project will include the following steps:
1. Data management: identify and organize the existing data into a coherent dataset for Aim 1 analysis.
2. Hands-on field work sampling and all levels of stakeholder interactions.
3. Simple descriptive analyses and GIS mapping.
4. Research report and poster, including results of model development, critical review with recommendations, and discussion of implications of interventions and possible policy updates.
5. Presentation of report at May 2019 DPH Shoreline Bathing Water Meeting and the ESDHD Board of Directors Meeting.