The Blue Water Task Force (BWTF) is the Surfrider Foundation’s volunteer-run water testing program. This citizen science program provides critical water quality information necessary to protect public health, raise awareness of local water pollution problems and bring together communities to implement solutions.
Surfrider’s national network of volunteer-run labs measure bacteria levels at ocean and bay beaches and freshwater sites, and compare them to water quality standards set by the EPA to protect public health in recreational waters. In Palm Beach County, Surfrider volunteers collect water samples at two public beaches and a boat launch and process them at a lab set up at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center. (https://www.marinelife.org)
Our sampling program complements the information provided by the Florida Healthy Beaches Program. (http://palmbeach.floridahealth.gov/programs-and-services/environmental-health/beach-water-sampling/index.html
If you are interested in becoming a Water Sampling Technician, please apply here.
Click the links below to see current water quality at your beach.
PALM BEACH COUNTY BEACHES
The Blue Water Task Force (BWTF) is a chapter-based, water quality monitoring program, run by volunteers. Most chapters test the water at their favorite beaches, but some chapters also sample upstream in their watersheds if there are freshwater areas important for recreation or if they are investigating the sources of beach water pollution.
The methods used by the BWTF measure the amount of indicator bacteria in a water sample. E. coli (not the same species that causes food poisoning) is measured in freshwater samples, and Enterococcus bacteria are measured in marine water to determine the health risk of exposure to these waters. The water quality standard mandated by the EPA to open and close beaches in the U.S. is based on these bacteria.
While not harmful on their own account, E. coli and Enterococcus are both types of fecal bacteria that can indicate the presence of more dangerous microorganisms and viruses. Fecal bacteria are found primarily in the intestinal tracts of mammals and birds, and are released into the environment through human and animal feces.
Fecal pollution at beaches could come from pets and wildlife, human sewage leaks or spills, and storm water runoff (especially in locations where sanitary sewers and storm sewers are combined). If the levels of indicator bacteria are high, then there are likely to also be other contaminants in the water found in human or animal feces that could make people sick, generally with skin rashes or gastro-intestinal symptoms.
A) To provide information on the safety of swimming and surfing at the beaches in their community.
Surfrider volunteers can collect samples from beaches that are not covered by city or state monitoring programs, or during times when no one else is testing, i.e. during the off-peak winter season. Some chapters sample the same beaches as their local agencies, but stagger their sampling times. For instance if the Department of Health samples only on Mondays, then the chapter collects samples on Thursday or Friday.
You can read about how other chapters are using their BWTF programs to fill-in information gaps on the BWTF blog.
Many BWTF programs are based in high schools and expose students and other youth groups to environmental science and local water quality and pollution issues. Participating in water testing programs is also educational for adult volunteers.
C) Motivate a movement of care for our coasts
BWTF volunteers often become advocates for the beaches and watersheds they are monitoring and are inspired to make changes at their schools, homes and businesses to decrease their impact on local waterways. The BWTF youth volunteers in Newport, Oregon clearly demonstrate this ethic and are working to promote coastal stewardship in their community.
D) Increase public awareness of local water quality issues
BWTF volunteers let their communities know about the areas where pollution is detected and bring their concerns to their local officials and environmental agencies.
E) Solve water quality problems, prevent pollution
BWTF volunteers often try to determine what is causing the pollution when their water samples consistently test high for bacteria. Many chapters bring their data to local officials when water quality issues are discovered, press for further investigation, and offer solutions.
Probably Not. It is recommended that everyone puts on plastic gloves before handling a water sample. This prevents any cross contamination of bacteria from your hands to the water and vice versa. Washing your hands with an anti-bacterial soap after sampling and when you are finished in the laboratory will also ensure that you don’t expose yourself to any bacteria that may or might not be in your samples. It is also recommended that you proceed with caution on slippery ground and rough surf so as to not fall into the water.
In general, it is also recommended for your safety that you take a shower after swimming in the ocean or digging in the sand, to rinse away any potential contaminants that might be in the water. USGS lab experiments have shown that submerging one’s hands four times in clean water removes more than 99% of the E. coli and associated viruses from the hands.