La Manzanilla salt water beach, Mexico's west coast (C) Daniel FriedmanWater Tests for Swimming Safety
Water test options & standards for swimming safety at lakes & at salt water beaches

  • SWIMMING WATER TESTS - CONTENTS: options for testing swimming water for coliform level for swimming safety at lakes, rivers & ocean or salt water beaches. Marine water or seawater sanitation tests, testing standards, test procedures, & contaminants.
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Water safety testing for coliform levels: water test options, procedures & standards for checking the safety of water at swimming areas for lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, and ocean beaches. Water test options & recommendations for fresh water & salt water beaches.

This article describes useful methods for testing swimming beach water for safety at fresh water and salt water beaches. We discuss the common water contamination concerns, the telltale or most common markers or tests such as testing for coliform or E-coli bacteria in swimming water, and we'll discuss special measures appropriate when testing for coliform in salt water. The article includes research citations, water testing standards citations, and sources for water testing materials.

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Ocean & Fresh Water Beach Swimming Water Safety & Sanitation Tests

Alligator at an estuary emptying into the ocean along a publich beach in La Manzanilla, Mexico (C) Daniel FriedmanOur associate Steve Vermilye (d. 2001) worked as a teenager rowing a River Keeper about in New York's lower Hudson River where they spotted and reported industrial and sewage pipes spilling directly into the river.

[Click to enlarge any image]

Some similar contaminant sources continue around the world today. However according to the U.S. NRDC every U.S. coastal state has at least one beach with pollution problems. (NRDC 2014)

While most sources blame storm water for beach pollution (heavy rains overwhelm local sewage processing plants causing discharge of sewage into the ocean), there may be other pollution sources that have not been detected.

Watch out: when considering swimming beach safety, don't worry so much about water pollution that you fail to observe other serious and immediate hazards such as riptides, lightning hazards, cuts from stepping on debris, or alligators such as this one waiting patiently for us to step into her water at an estuary spilling into the ocean after a storm at La Manzanilla on the west coast of Mexico.

Storm waters wash not only contaminants but also alligators out into the ocean. Preferring inland waters these alligators make their way back upstream following the storm.

Water test kit providers for swimming water, lake water, ocean water testing for sewage contaminants - Marine Water Testing Kits & Procedures

La Manzanilla salt water beach, Mexico's west coast (C) Daniel Friedman

Watch out: testing recommendations for swimming water safety vary between fresh water and salt water. At "Clean Beach Water Testing Guides" in this article (below) see our US EPA excerpts pointing out the importance of testing marine waters (salt water) for enterococci rather than relying on E-coli tests (which are fine for fresh water).

Watch out: also that testing methodology is as important as using a recommended test method for swimming or recreational water sanitation- safety. For example the frequency and response of water sample collection after events (e.g. storms) will be as critical as using a recommended water testing method. In short, exactly how, where, and how often water samples are collected are important in forming reliable beach safety or sanitation test data.

Watch out finally for confusing precision (precise counts of E-coli or Enterococci) versus accuracy. Water sampling in large bodies of water is vulnerable to more variation among individual samples than you might guess, even when samples are collected at the same time and very nearly at the same location. - Boehm (2003) & Santoro, Boehm et als (2008).

And Wheeler et als (2003) report that these bacteria may be present even in wet beach sand (you don't have to go into the water) while others report the bacteria may be reintroduced into water even from temporary residence in dry beach sand - Abdelzaher (2010). . Also see ACCURACY vs PRECISION of MEASUREMENTS

Slanetz Barteley culture media for enterococci showing example growth - adapted from Biokar Diagnostics

Other Sea Water Tests & Testing Instruments Not Suitable for Ocean Beach Water Sanitation Testing

Beach Water Testing Agencies & Associations

La Manzanilla salt water beach, Mexico's west coast (C) Daniel Friedman

This information is the product of a citizen-monitoring program by members of WATERKEEPERS Baja Californias and its partner organizations. Official government results (when available) can be found here: de-calidad-de-agua-de-mar.

Sea Water & Fresh Water Contaminant Testing Reference Standards

Here are two key water testing standards appropriate to tests used for swimming beaches where either fresh water or saltwater (marine beaches) are involved:

Clean Beach Water Testing Guides, Research, Information Sources for fresh water & salt water beaches


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SWIMMING WATER TESTS at - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.


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