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Know What You’re Getting Into

Chesapeake waters are inviting

As summer draws you to the alluring shores of Chesapeake Bay, take heed to check the waters before you splash in.
    The good news is that Maryland beaches were open for swimming with no health-based advisories nearly 99 percent of the time for the fifth year in a row last summer, a Maryland Department of the Environment report shows.
    “Beach conditions are monitored from Western Maryland lakes to the Ocean City surf, with updated information readily available on the Maryland Healthy Beaches website and through smartphone apps,” reports state Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles.
    From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the Maryland Healthy Beaches website and app delivers updated information on conditions at nearly 200 monitored beaches in the state.
    Some days our waters are not safe. Bacteria are all-too-common pollutants in our waterways. Some bacteria, including vibrio, occur naturally in warm waters. In a summer 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.
    Local health departments determine where, when and how often a beach is sampled. Anne Arundel and Calvert County departments sample locales weekly and biweekly and post water quality reports on their websites. Both can be set to deliver text and email alerts for multiple locations. Find those results at Check beaches nationally at, which logs local testing results from our area Riverkeepers through an app created by the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper.
    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.
    Water is tested for enterococci, bacteria that come from the intestines of all warm-blooded animals and are associated with fecal contamination. Rainwater runoff, waterfowl and tidal action can cause high results that nature will fix in a day or two.
    Do your part to keep the waters of Chesapeake Country clean and swimmable and all who enjoy them healthy.

Safe Beach and Bay Behaviors

Avoid swimming near storm drains along the beach and within 48 hours of a heavy rain or until the water clears.

Try not to swallow beach water.

Shower or bathe after swimming.

Dispose of dog waste properly (keep small plastic bags with you.)

Dogs may not be allowed at some beaches.

Avoid swimming if you feel ill or have open cuts or sores. If water contact can’t be avoided, cover your open wounds with waterproof bandages.

Use diaper-changing stations in restrooms where available; otherwise, change diapers away from the water’s edge.

Properly dispose of used diapers.

Wash your hands with soap and warm water after using the bathroom or changing diapers.

Take all trash offsite in a bag with you.

Do not feed seagulls or other wildlife.

Use an approved marina pump-out station for boat waste disposal.

Report any unsafe or unhealthy conditions to a lifeguard or beach manager.

Volunteer in local beach cleanups.