Lewes Beach advisory demands immediate attention
The monsoon season continued this week. Heavy rain is saturating fields, making it difficult for farmers to cultivate, harvest and plant. Drainage ponds and swales overflowing onto highways and roads cause dangerous flooding situations. And all the water is flushing our streets, roads and lawns, carrying whatever has been accumulating on them into our waterways.
In the long run, the flushing may be good for us, moving potential pollutants away from groundwater that provides our drinking water.
But, in the meantime, it may be causing spikes along our waterfronts that can cause immediate and longer-term problems.
Last week, regular testing by state officials of coastal waters along our beaches found elevated levels of enterococcus bacteria along Lewes Beach.
Those bacteria are normal in the intestinal tracts of humans and animals but can cause infections and other problems in humans based on levels of contact. The levels identified led to a swimmer advisory and temporary closure of the beach. Though there have been a few closures over the past few years in Rehoboth Beach - temporary closures lifted quickly after a day or two - this is the first in Lewes in recent memory.
When those advisories were issued in Rehoboth Beach, we wrote editorials calling for a vigorous investigation to determine the source of the enterococcus spike and the conditions that allowed those levels to reach a point that prompted state public health officials to take action.
Investigators looked at everything from stormwater runoff carrying animal bacteria to porpoise feces as potential sources. Delaware's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, in its permit approval for the ocean outfall project, required Rehoboth to study its stormwater management system to reduce pollution.
Now, based on last week's swimmer advisories, Lewes should take those same steps. The city must determine the source of the problem and figure out what can be done to ensure such advisories don't become commonplace. Public health matters are serious issues and must be addressed with serious investigations. Too much is at stake to do otherwise.