It was looking to be a better than average summer as far as beach closings at state parks were concerned. And then it rained last weekend. Really, really rained.

With a couple of weeks left in the season, the closure rate due to high bacteria counts or sewage at the sate’s 23 beaches is 2.9 percent, about 25 percent above the most recent five-year average of 2.3 percent.

Before last weekend – a whole different story. Total days closed stood at 39, 1.7 percent and included only 10 different beaches. But by the time Tuesday rolled around – six beaches were closed including the season’s first closures of state-run Long Island Sound beaches. By Wednesday that had increased to seven, on Thursday, five were still closed and on Friday, one — Black Rock State Park in Watertown – remained closed.

That hoisted the total so far for the season, which runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day – to 57 days and 15 beaches. There’s only one cause for this week’s problem – storm water overflow from rain.

“No doubt,” said Guy Hoffman, an environmental analyst for the Bureau of Water Protection and Land Reuse in the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. “If we’re going to have multiple beach closures in a particular week, that’s going to be the biggest issue.”

But that’s not always the reason. Hoffman said for high bacteria counts leading to closures early in the season, one of the main causes – to put it delicately – goose poop. Another big problem – put equally delicately – dog poop. And there’s also the horse poop problem.

Gay City State Park in Hebron, which has averaged a 12.6 percent closure rate due to high bacteria counts over the last five years, has geese problems. Chatfield Hollow in Killingworth had a particularly bad year in 2009 when it was closed for 19 days. Officials surmise it was a dog waste problem after funding ran out for a pet waste station that had provided bags for owners the previous two years.

Wharton Brook in Wallingford has consistently suffered from storm runoff. The area is surrounded by highways that keep excess water from being absorbed. This year so far, it remains the biggest problem area – closed 12 days, including three in a row from last weekend’s rain – a 14.1 percent closure rate. That’s not as bad as its 35.3 percent rate in 2006, but above its average of 11.6.

Even with this week’s skew, Hoffman thinks with two weeks to go: “it will work out to be about an average year.”

Jan Ellen is CT Mirror's regular freelance Environment and Energy Reporter. As a freelance reporter, her stories have also appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Yale Climate Connections, and elsewhere. She is a former editor at The Hartford Courant, where she handled national politics including coverage of the controversial 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. She was an editor at the Gazette in Colorado Springs and spent more than 20 years as a TV and radio producer at CBS News and CNN in New York and in the Boston broadcast market. In 2013 she was the recipient of a Knight Journalism Fellowship at MIT on energy and climate. She graduated from the University of Michigan and attended Boston University’s graduate film program.

Leave a comment