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‘Swim at your own risk’ signs at shoreline beaches warn against more than lack of lifeguards

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CLINTON--The sign at Clinton Town Beach says "swim at your own risk," and the reason is more complex than just the lack of lifeguards on duty.

"We're looking specifically at bacterial levels at beaches," said Curt Johnson, who works with Save the Sound.

He wants you to know how dirty the water at your favorite beach may be, and there's a website to make the search very easy. Sound Health Explorer shows the level of bacteria at all the beaches along the Long Island Sound, both on the Connecticut and New York sides.

"What it shows is a dot for every beach on the Sound – over 200 of them – over 100 in Connecticut," said Johnson. "If you have a D or an F, you're at a beach that has failed 18-23 percent, which means a quarter of the time people are swimming in unhealthy water."

So what does the website say for local Connecticut beaches? Well some of them got great grades, such as Hamonnasset Beach State Park, which received a perfect "A" for its low levels of bacteria. However, just up the road in Clinton, the beach was not nearly a clean: Clinton Town Beach got just a "C," meaning 16 percent of the tests done at the beach over the past five years resulted in higher-than-passable levels of bacteria.

The bacteria comes from failing septic systems, cracked sewer pipes, runoff from rain water and even animals.

Johnson says the website isn’t out to scare people. He simply wants to start a conversation between residents and their town planners, with a goal of more green dots and less bacteria on the shores.

According to Johnson, "We're starting the conversations with Branford, Westbrook, and we’re saying to them, 'let's get your information together, and let's find out where the problem is.'"