Natural bodies of water, such as beaches, are great to play, swim, and cool off on a hot sunny day. Since it is a natural body of water, the conditions and quality of the water can change quickly due to rain, wind, waves and waterfowl. These factors can change the level of bacteria in the water to the point where it can make you sick.
Before entering the water at a beach, keep the following in mind:
Swallowing water is the main way you can get sick from swimming at beaches.
Has there been a heavy rain in the last 24-48 hours?
Rainfall has a significant impact on water quality. Run off from the rain washes bacteria from the shore, fields and streets into streams, rivers and lakes.
Is it windy with a lot of wave action?
Wind can cause waves, and wave action can stir up the sand and silt. This can cause high levels of bacteria in the water.
Is the water cloudy?
If you can’t see your feet when standing in waist deep water, it means the sand and silt has been stirred up in the water and can increase the levels of bacteria in the water.
Wash hands or use hand sanitizer after playing in the sand or water, and always before eating, especially for children.
Bacteria levels tend to be higher in the warm, wet sand on the shore.
Are there other factors that can change water quality?
The presence of seagulls, geese, ducks and their droppings can have a significant impact on water quality. Dead fish, algae/scum, or debris in the water can also increase the risk of illness or injury.
Have you been sick?
Avoid swimming if you have an infection or an open wound. Do not put your head underwater if you are susceptible to eye, ear, nose, or throat infections.
Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, are a microscopic, plant-like organisms that occur naturally in lakes, rivers, and ponds. Blue-green algae can bloom into large masses that look like clumpy scum, have an odd smell like freshly mown grass or rotting garbage, and make the water look blue-green, olive-green, or red.
Blue-green algae can be harmful to humans and animals and should be avoided. It can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever in people and animals. If you see or suspect the water has blue-green algae in it:
- Do not let people, pets, or livestock wade or swim in the water.
- Avoid drinking the water.
- Do not boat or water ski through algae blooms.
If you have come into contact with blue-green algae, rinse off immediately with fresh water.
A beach closure (rarely issued) prohibits swimming due to a chemical or sewage spill, or the presence of Blue-green Algae.