Fecal matter levels in York County swimming spot ‘right off the scale’

Posted Oct. 03, 2013, at 4:12 p.m.

OLD ORCHARD BEACH, Maine — Goosefare Brook, separating Saco and Old Orchard Beach, looks like an attractive place to swim during low tide, with its shallow, temperate waters. However, local conservationists are warning that high bacteria levels in the mouth of the brook may make this water a less-than-attractive option for recreational use.

A sign on the entranceway to the beach in the Goosefare Brook area, posted on Sept. 5 by the Ocean Park Conservation Society, warns beach-goers that water tested that week had “unacceptable” levels of bacteria.

“This water might not be safe for recreational contact,” states the sign.

Local resident Bill Bell has been taking weekly water samples during the summer through the Maine Healthy Beaches Program for the past five years. Maine Healthy Beaches, a partnership between the state, municipalities, nonprofits and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, tests water samples taken by volunteers such as Bell.

The water is tested for levels of enterococci bacteria to determine whether there is fecal matter in the water. Bell said over his time of sample taking, testing has shown regular incidents of high levels of bacteria in the mouth of Goosefare Brook.

The numbers, at times, “have gone right off the scale,” said Conservation Commission Chairman John Bird, who said he does not recommend swimming in the brook.

Bell said though the testing shows fecal matter in the water, it cannot determine whether it is human or animal waste. Last year, however, a pair of dogs trained to distinguish between human and animal feces sniffed out the area and conveyed that the fecal matter was human, he said.

Goosefare Brook is a good place to practice surf kayaking, said Bell, but he didn’t take his kayak out there this summer. He said his friends don’t bring their grandchildren to the brook anymore to swim.

Both Bird and Bell hope that a solution to this problem is found.

Old Orchard Beach and Saco just received conditional approval for a grant through the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Land and Water Quality to perform a Goosefare Brook Watershed Management plan, according to Assistant Town Manager V. Louise Reid.

“This will be a huge help as we work to identify and mitigate pollution sources in the watershed, which will ultimately improve the health of our natural resources, including water quality,” she said.

The town recently sent a letter to residents in Ocean Park, and dye testing has begun to determine whether water flushed in toilets is going into the town’s sewer system. Bird said there has been a good response so far to the dye testing. There may be some seasonal homes that might not be able to be reached this fall, but he’s hopeful that testing can be completed in the spring.

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