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Project Name:

Improving Water Quality in the Short Beach Neighborhood of Branford, CT

Organization Name:

East Shore District Health Department (ESDHD)

Preceptor Names(s) and Contact Information:

688 East Main Street, Branford, CT 06405 Main Line (203) 481-4233

As a regional public health agency, ESDHD collaborates and has mutual agreements with surrounding local town agencies, and it will be collaborating with the Connecticut Departments of Public Health, Agricultural (Bureau of Aquiculture), and Energy and Environmental Protection as necessary.

Brief description of the Organization:

The ESDHD is committed to improving the health and well-being of the residents of Branford, East Haven, and North Branford. The Health District uses the framework of the Ten Essential Functions of Public Health in its planning and service delivery to its member towns. It strives to meet and provide the ten nationally recognized services expected of a local public health agency.

ESDHD works with the State of Connecticut and the Connecticut shoreline communities to carry out the state mandated responsibilities and fulfill the essential services of a local health system. Its main responsibilities consist of:

  • Assuring the conditions in which people can be healthy
  • Promoting physical and mental health
  • Preventing disease, injury and disability

ESDHD’s public health/environmental programs enable every resident to have healthy living conditions. Its health promotion programs educate and encourage the community to adopt healthy behaviors and prevent adverse behaviors. ESDHD’s philosophy is to empower its communities to improve personal health as well as to offer programming to advance the health of the community as a whole. Disease control and prevention activities include vaccinations, community clinical services, population public health education, material child health wellness, preparedness, and environmental programming interventions.

Project Description:

The Clark Avenue Beach is located in the shoreline neighborhood of Short Beach in Branford, CT. The ESDHD performs weekly bacterial testing in Long Island Sound bathing water, including at the Clark Avenue Beach, during the bathing season. In addition, since water quality is known to be detrimentally compromised after a heavy rainstorm event, the ESDHD samples water from a runoff pipe that discharges directly into the Clark Avenue Beach area. This runoff is sampled during some, but not all rainfall events. Beaches are closed or re-opened based on results of bacterial testing. In recent years, the Clark Avenue Beach has been experiencing unusually high spikes of bacteria, as determined by weekly testing of bathing water or by testing of water from the runoff pipe, even in dry weather conditions.

The Short Beach community is densely populated and characterized by small lots and exposed ledge-rock. Residential houses located in this community have three different types of sewage systems: 1) some are connected to public sewers; 2) some have on-site subsurface sewage disposal (septic) systems (SSDS); and 3) some have on-site short-term holding tanks.

Holding tanks are typically septic tanks that do not discharge into a leaching system; they are designed to contain/hold all wastewater (bathroom, kitchen, washing machine, etc.) and be pumped out every few days to several weeks, depending on the water usage of the residential dwelling. There are a number of aging holding tanks in Short Beach without auto-alarm systems or scheduled pump-out maintenance.

The Town of Branford has a pump-out program where on-site SSDSs can be pumped-out every 3 years for a nominal fee. Property owners with holding tanks can work with the Town of Branford to get their holding tanks pumped-out weekly.

It should also be noted that the Farm River Watershed, with its potential bacterial contaminants, flows into the Clark Avenue Beach.

Finally, during the Spring 2017 Term, a student team in the course EPH 555b, Climate Change, Sustainability, and Public Health, conducted a project entitled “Bacterial contamination in Long Island Sound: improving beach closure policy and assessing the effects of climate change.” The team developed a model for the relationship between rainfall, temperature, and enterococcal levels using data from four coastal Connecticut towns: Branford, East Haven, Guilford, and Madison.

The project will have the following aims:

Aim 1: Focusing specifically on data for the Clark Avenue Beach, update the 2017 student report by examining the relationship between weather-related and other variables and level of bacterial contamination at Clark Beach.

Aim 1a: Examine the relationship between weather-related and other variables and level of bacterial contamination in shellfish beds near Clark Avenue Beach.

Aim 2: Construct GIS map of the Short Beach neighborhood sewage system. This will involve reviewing town records to link each property in the neighborhood with its type of sewage waste disposal – public sewer, SSDS, or holding tank.

Aim 3: Conduct a hand-on sanitary survey and field water quality sampling in the Short Beach neighborhood in different weather conditions. ESDHD will train interns on current State and EPA field sampling methodology. Samples will need to be delivered to the State lab in a timely manner per State/EPA protocol (costs incurred for mileage for sample collection and delivery will be reimbursed by ESDHD).

Aim 4: Participate in community outreach meetings to inform residents about the sanitary survey and to give them an opportunity to assist ESDHD in developing fair, practical solutions and behavior changes to improve water quality in their community.

Aim 5: Participate in meetings with local and state agency partners about both short-term and long-term solutions to improving Short Beach water quality. There will be an opportunity to participate in meetings of the Farm River Watershed Project that was selected for funding by the USDA’s National Water Quality Initiative.

Expected Work-Product and Deliverables:

The deliverables for this project will include the following:

  • Protocol for Aim 1 analysis
  • Data management: update and organize the existing data into a coherent dataset for Aim 1 analysis
  • GIS map of the Short Beach neighborhood sewage system, with simple descriptive analysis
  • Hands-on sanitary survey and field work sampling and all levels of stakeholder interactions
  • A final research report and poster, including executive summary, background and significance of the project, methods, results, critical review with recommendations, discussion of implications of interventions and possible policy updates, references, and appendices
  • Presentation of report at May 2019 Connecticut Department of Public Health Shoreline Bathing Water Meeting and the ESDHD Board of Directors Meeting. There could also be other optional conference presentation opportunities.
  • Report-back to the Short Beach community