Water, Earth, Sky

Scott Shenk writes about the environment.

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Fairview Beach, swimming and bacteria

Another swimming season is in the books at Fairview Beach, the popular Potomac River locale in King George.  And, once again, it was not swimmer-friendly, according to the Virginia Department of Health. During the season, which runs from late May through early September, five  swim advisories were posted on the VDH beach monitoring site. The state monitors dozens of beaches, almost all of them along the Atlantic shore.  And Fairview Beach is nearly always at or near the top of the list when it comes to  the  advisories, which tell the public that bacteria levels in the water are above state limits.  This year, Fairview Beach had the most  advisories of  any of the 46 monitored beaches.  Runner-up, with four,  was the Lesner Bridge East  site in Virginia Beach. Still, the five advisories at Fairview Beach was one less than the 2011 season, which had six. There were five posted in 2010, six in 2009, eight in 2008, nine in 2007 and seven in 2006. Monitoring began in 2004. The problem at Fairview Beach continues despite years of work to find the source of the contamination and eliminate it. It is a concern because bacteria in the water can cause eye and ear infections and gastrointestinal illness, though no waterborne illnesses have yet been confirmed  at Fairview Beach. Over several years, the local Health Department has worked with the community and county officials to test sewer lines and aging septic tanks along the waterfront. Repairs and upbrades have failed to end the contamination, which seems to migrate from shore to beach. A 2006  Virginia Tech study  identified a drain pipe near a waterfront restaurant as a likely source. A pattern of spikes in bacteria after heavy rais also was implicated, along with the notion that bacteria accumulating in sand along the shore are being exposed to wave action. Read  Virgina Tech’s latest report on  bacteria  source tracking at monitored beaches, including Fairview Beach.