Find out how your Long Island Sound beaches fared
Download previous Beach Report Cards: 2019 (updated Nov 2020)
The nonprofit organization Save the Sound released results of its 2021 Long Island Sound Beach Report on June 10, during events at Orchard Beach in New York and Woodmont Beach in Connecticut. The report offered good news for swimmers, noting that 79% of the more than 200 Long Island Sound beaches highlighted earned “A” or “B” grades for water quality in the 2020 swimming season. As inspiration to swimmers and beachgoers, the biennial report provided a list of the “Top 20” public beaches on Long Island Sound based on water quality (10 each in NY and CT) and presented comprehensive grades for 204 swimming beaches overall for 2018, 2019, and 2020.
However, the report did note a decline in water quality at many beaches in the days following rain events, which is especially troubling given predictions of increasing seasonal wet weather due to climate change. Several regions showed substantially higher percentages of wet weather water quality failures than in previous years. Save the Sound is calling on elected officials to invest additional resources in repairs and improvements to sewer lines and stormwater systems, which impact beach water quality after heavy and even moderate rain.
|Best Connecticut Beaches: 2018 – 2020||Towns||Best New York Beaches: 2018 – 2020||Towns|
|Waterford Town Beach||Waterford||The Creek Beach||Oyster Bay|
|Dubois Beach||Stonington||Southold Beach||Southold|
|Westbrook Town Beach||Westbrook||Port Jefferson Beach – West||Brookhaven|
|Esker Point Beach||Groton||McCabe’s Beach||Southold|
|McCook Point Beach||East Lyme||Centre Island – Sound Beach||Oyster Bay|
|Eastern Point Beach||Groton||Kenney’s Beach||Southold|
|Quigley Beach||Stamford||West Harbor Memorial Beach||Oyster Bay|
|Woodmont Beach||Milford||Sunken Meadow State Park – East||Smithtown|
|White Sands Beach||Old Lyme||Orchard Beach||Bronx|
|Burying Hill Beach||Westport||Soundside Beach||Oyster Bay|
Tracy Brown, Regional Director of Water Protection for Save the Sound, commented, “The great news illustrated in this year’s report is that there are superb swimming beaches across the length and breadth of the Long Island Sound in both NY and CT. But the report also demonstrates that there are challenges still to be overcome involving wet weather related pollution at specific beaches, the quality of sewer or septic infrastructure in some beach communities, as well as issues of restricted beach access for the general public.”
Gregory O’Mullan, environmental microbiologist and professor at Queens College who consulted with Save the Sound on the report, added, “Beach water quality monitoring is critical to managing pollution and protecting public health. It is federally funded through the EPA and supervised locally by departments of health. Our most important role has been to sift through the data and make it easily accessible to the public and to elected officials so that communities can take action where needed.”
Key findings of Save the Sound’s 2021 Long Island Sound Beach Report include:
- 79% of Long Island Sound beaches earned an “A” or “B” grade.
- That still leaves 16% of Sound beaches with moderate to poor grades ranging from “C” to “D,” indicating that more work needs to be done to improve water quality and avoid beach closures. (The remaining 5% of beaches did not monitor enough to record grades or did not report findings to the EPA database.)
- Rain is the primary driver for water pollution at area beaches; overall water quality failure rates doubled when it rained, from 5.5% in dry weather to 11.4% even 48 hours after wet weather.
- Rain causes water quality failure at Sound beaches for several reasons, including stormwater runoff or sewer line overflow when communities depend on combined stormwater/sewer lines (CSOs) or have aging sewer lines with undetected leaks.
- Climate change will mean more rain for the region; therefore, it is crucial to invest in stormwater and sewage infrastructure to avoid dramatically accelerated beach closures.
- While overall water quality failure rates remained roughly consistent with the prior three-year report (2016-2018), specific regions showed increased failure rates, particularly Suffolk County, NY. Eastern Suffolk County saw wet weather failure rates increase from 8.9% to 14.1% versus the previous three-year average, while Western Suffolk County wet weather failure rates rose from 12.7% to 15.5%.
- Swimmable water quality is highly variable by location, and pollution sources vary. Sources of pollution are local and can be addressed with local actions. Water quality monitoring measures fecal bacteria concentration because pathogens in fecal bacteria are what makes swimmers sick.
- Beach access on the Sound can be limited, especially in NY. A third of the beaches along the Sound are restricted as either private beaches, or beaches for local residents only, with only 55% (113 of 204 beaches) open to the general public. Public access to CT beaches has been expanded due to a landmark court case. However, some beaches are public in name only, placing onerous fees and restrictions on non-residents that further economic and racial barriers to enjoying Long Island Sound.
Save the Sound created a dedicated website—www.SoundHealthExplorer.org—which features interactive maps listing beach water quality and from which the full Beach Report can be downloaded. The site has been enhanced to include information on which beaches offer public access, the location of kayak and canoe entry ramps, and more useful information. The site highlights more than a decade of water quality data for Long Island Sound.
Residents, as well as local and regional officials, are urged to check www.soundhealthexplorer.org for data regarding specific beaches. Often, issues forcing beaches into frequent closures can be addressed when local water quality patterns are carefully assessed and associated pollution sources identified.
United States Senator Richard Blumenthal (CT), commented, “This report proves that progress is being made to clean up Long Island Sound—but far more work is required. Significantly more federal dollars are required to ensure that the Sound remains a vibrant, clean, and healthy place for all to enjoy. Investments to confront climate change and rising sea levels, to upgrade wastewater treatment facilities, and to reduce runoff from pesticides and fertilizers are even more crucial to protect and grow ecotourism that is such a vital part of our region’s economy. I am committed to fighting for every possible dollar to defend this beloved natural treasure.”
United States Senator Chris Murphy (CT), commented, “The Long Island Sound is a critical asset to our state’s economy, and we have no choice but to protect it. Today’s report is good news for families as they head to the beach this summer, but we need to do more to clean up our beaches and improve water quality. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I’ll continue fighting for increased funding that will preserve and protect the Sound for years to come.”
United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), commented, “The beaches along the Long Island Sound are some of our most precious natural resources and a vitally important part of the New York Tri-State economy. We must do everything we can to protect them from pollution for the countless local residents and tourists to enjoy them, especially now as we head into the summer months. That’s why I was proud to fight for funding to increase federal funds to help restore the environmental quality of the Sound. I will continue to work in the Senate to push for legislation that addresses the effects of climate change on our beaches and waters, and make sure that impacted communities have all the funding and resources they need for their cleanup efforts.”
United States Senator Chuck Schumer (NY), commented, “The Long Island Sound is a natural treasure and an economic engine for New York that draws families, boaters, tourists, and anglers to our shores. Save the Sound’s 2021 Long Island Sound Beach Report shows that while we’ve taken some important steps in the right direction, there’s still much work to be done to fully restore and protect the beaches and waters in and around the Sound. I’ve proudly delivered millions in federal funds to support this effort and, as majority leader, I’ll continue fighting to clean up the Sound for current and future generations of New Yorkers.”
Dr. Robert Fanuzzi, Dr. Paul Mankiewicz, and Karen Argenti of the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality, stated, “For 50 years, BCEQ has sought nature-based solutions to environmental pollution. The report’s findings of beachfront water quality along the Long Island Sound only increases this need. We urge municipalities to commit to using natural and green infrastructure to prevent runoff into our waterbodies, as the best practices first choice. It is cheaper, quicker to implement and efficient, while recognizing the connection of upland communities to regional water quality. As storm surges peak, we urge a new approach to shorelines that focuses on conserving, restoring and rebuilding reefs, marshes, mussel and sea grass beds to transform excess nitrogen in the estuary into an increasingly productive fishery and a nice place for all of us to live, play and swim.”