by Jake Solyst
July 06, 2021
As the summer heat kicks in, visiting the many beaches in the Bay and along its tidal rivers can be a great way to cool off. But is the water always safe to be in?
High levels of bacteria in the water can cause a variety of health issues, including gastrointestinal illness, skin and ear infections, and respiratory disease. One of the worst bacterial infections—vibrio—infects thousands of people each year and can cause severe skin ulcers, gangrene and deadly blood infections in people with exposed cuts. Pets, too, are susceptible to infections, which can turn fatal in a short amount of time.
The quickest way to find out whether your favorite swimming spot is safe, is to check one of the many state websites and mobile apps.
- Maryland Healthy Beaches Program
- Maryland Eyes on the Bay
- Virginia Waterborne Hazards Control Programs
- New York State Beach Water Quality Information
- Delaware Department of Natural Resources - Recreational Waters
- Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources - Swimming
Many individual counties along the Bay also have health information about their beaches available on their websites. For the entire Atlantic Coast, check out the popular mobile app The Swim Guide, which gets up-to-date data from a number of Chesapeake waterkeepers.
All of these resources use data from professionals who are regularly testing water quality, but there are often waterways that are tested only occasionally, or not at all. If you can’t find an update on the health standard of your local waterway, you can follow a few best practices to keep safe.
Stormwater runoff increases bacteria levels, so it’s best to avoid water for at least 48 hours after a significant rainstorm. Do not enter the water if you have cuts or open sores and wash your hands after swimming. Also, consider the amount of time you’re spending in the water—if you are kayaking or boating and are only getting splashed, the chances of you getting sick are much less than if you were to swim around.
Algae blooms are another thing to avoid. These blooms are the result of excess nutrients in the water and look like blue, bright green, brown or red paint floating on the surface. They are especially dangerous for dogs and one of the main threats to the Bay’s entire ecosystem.
Despite these health concerns, beaches along the tidal rivers and the Chesapeake Bay are often safe for swimming, fishing and boating. Visit our public access map to find a spot near you, and help keep the water clean by taking your trash with you, picking up pet waste, keeping sewage on your boat and other important practices.