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Look Before You Leap

Know what you’re getting into

Everything flows downstream. Ponder that maxim as summer draws you to the alluring waters of Chesapeake Country.
    When taking a swim in the Bay and its tributaries, think of what’s traveled downstream. The big rains we’ve been having are expressways for pollutants entering the Bay. So some days our waters are not safe waters.
    Bacteria are common pollutants in our waterways. Some bacteria, including vibrio, occur naturally in warm waters during summer. In such a stew, swimming with open sores, cuts or ear infections makes us susceptible and can cause life-threatening skin and blood infections and intestinal illnesses.
    Fecal matter can spread cryptosporidium, giardia, shigella, norovirus and E. coli, all causing stomach cramps and diarrhea. Avoid swimming if you have had stomach illnesses recently and be sure to clean up after changing a child’s diaper and keep it far away from the water.
    Nitrogen in the Bay primarily gets there by way of agricultural runoff, including your own home gardens. An excess of nitrogen can cause algae blooms, blocking sunlight and oxygen from reaching aquatic plants and animals. The blooms of blue-green algae (which is really cyanobacteria) can sicken people and animals as well as the water and its creatures.
    Swim safer by checking out the Maryland Healthy Beaches website,
    “From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the Maryland Healthy Beaches website and app delivers updated information on conditions at nearly 200 monitored beaches in Maryland,” says state Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles.
    Another source is the Waterkeepers website,, logging local testing results from area Riverkeepers.
    “Operation Clearwater monitors the health on public swimming beaches by testing the water weekly for bacteria,” says Jess Iliff, the South Riverkeeper.
    After rainfall, all Anne Arundel County beaches are under a no swimming/no direct water contact advisory for at least 48 hours due to predicted high bacterial levels. If the water looks cloudy or murky, avoid it.
    Iliff keeps informed, but he doesn’t stay out of the water.
    “I swim in the water, and I let my children swim,” he says. “I recently sailed from Annapolis to St. Michael’s, and I jumped overboard to cool off. At least twice I swallowed a mouthful of water and I’m just fine today.”