Swimming safety in the Esopus

Last year at this time, Saugerties village trustees were concerned that it might not be safe to swim at the village’s beach at the Esopus Creek at the lower end of Partition Street.

This year there are no such worries, because not only is the health department doing additional testing (including after rain storms, which raise pathogen levels due to run off), but a number of local volunteers working with the Riverkeeper organization are also conducting water quality tests.

After the Saugerties Times ran a story about the trustee’s concern about water quality at the beach in June 2011, individuals concerned with the safety of the Esopus contacted the Riverkeeper to see what they could do. They were told to start taking samples, and bring them to the Riverkeeper’s boat, which travels the Hudson River, making regular stops in towns along the way. There is a water-testing lab onboard.

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This group, with the aid of the Riverkeeper, tests the waters by the beach on a much more regular basis than the county does, said Patrick Landewe, village trustee.

So far, all the data shows that the creek is fine for swimming, kayaking, and fishing, he said.

The health department has stepped up its testing, but according to Landewe, the village still doesn’t see the results quickly enough to let people know if it’s safe to swim or not at a given time.

The health department did not return a number of telephone calls seeking comment about the testing process and the release of test results.

Most water testing done throughout the state is for fecal coliform levels (the pathogen from feces, whether human or animal). However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said that testing for enterococcus is a better indicator of water quality safety, and it’s for that pathogen the village would like to see the water tested.

And while the county does not test for enterococcus, the Riverkeeper organization does, Landewe said.

Kinsing Irving, a lifeguard at the beach for the past three years, said this year, “the water looks cleaner than ever.” She said that in past years, folks who live along the creek or use the creek for recreation would toss junk into the water, but after several years of getting the word out it seems to have stopped.

“The Esopus Creek is a wonderful place to recreate,” Landewe said. The only time that there have been problems are after big rain events.

“We keep getting better and better data about the Esopus, and that will help people make an educated decision on swimming there,” Landewe said.

At some point, Landewe hopes to have all data posted on the village website on a regular basis.

For more information about the Riverkeeper and their testing efforts and results, visit www.riverkeeper.org.

On Aug. 1, in conjunction with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, there will be a hands-on water quality program about the Esopus Creek at the Saugerties Public Library.

It’s part of the library’s Wednesday Afternoon Book Club and runs from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. for kids in grades 1 to 5, said Stephanie McElrath, director of children’s programming.

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