Sound Swim Alerts: Our Goal is to End Pollution at Westchester’s Beaches

Planning a trip to Westchester’s Long Island Sound beaches is an iffy proposition. Pollution shuts some of them regularly. Others almost never close. All are threatened by occasional and unexpected sewage mishaps.

This summer, we at Save the Sound are bringing back our Sound Swim Alerts for Westchester, a regular notice of which beaches are closed and which open, and where you can go on a hot day to safely cool off in the waters of Long Island Sound.

Our purpose is to help you plan your outings. But we also intend to help solve the decades-old problem of bacterial pollution at local beaches by calling attention to it and highlighting what needs to be done. We’ll hold local governments accountable for not fixing their sewers and celebrate the occasions when residents and government agencies take positive steps to make Long Island Sound safer and cleaner.

Here’s how Sound Swim Alert works. Each weekend morning and on holidays we will post a notice here on Green Cities Blue Waters telling you if the beaches are open. We’ll also post it on our Facebook page and on Twitter (@savethesound).

If the beaches are closed, we’ll take the additional step of alerting you via email. We’ll also do this if the beaches are shut down on a weekday. (Sign up for our email alerts here.)

In Westchester, the county Health Department preemptively shuts 10 of the 21 Long Island Sound beaches for a day each time it rains half an inch or more within 24 hours, because of pathogens that get washed into local waterways from old, decaying sewers.

It’s an old problem and our fervent belief is that it has gone on for too long: preemptive closures of beaches on Mamaroneck Harbor started nearly 30 years ago! Last summer, Westchester lost 136 beach days because of pollution (we multiplied the number of days closed by the number of beaches to get the total of “beach days”).

We also believe that we all have a right to use and enjoy the waters of Long Island Sound. We can’t do that if they are too polluted for swimming.

And just as importantly, we believe the problem can be solved. Yes, it will take time and money – leaks have to be found, pipes will have to be replaced or relined. The cost is likely to fall on the local governments, which own the sewers (Mamaroneck has spent $2 million to $3 million to repair about five miles of sewers, which is only a fraction of the village’s sewers). Local residents will have to insist that their elected officials make it a priority.

But it can be solved.

Together, we can take the uncertainty out of swimming on Long Island Sound in Westchester and make the beaches safe for everybody, every day.

Posted by Tom Andersen, New York Program and Communications Coordinator

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