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Many factors impact bacteria levels at local beaches, determining if water is safe to swim in

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BRANFORD - Around the the Fourth of July, many flock to the beaches. The health department, in charge of monitoring the waters off of beaches in East Haven and Branford, is doing its best to educate patrons about what factors can lead to bacteria levels high enough to close beaches.

Not feeding geese and having your not-yet potty trained kids wear proper swimming diapers can keep bacteria levels acceptable. But, heavy rainfall can make it rise.

"We get lots of runoff, which comes from what we call non-point source pollution areas," said Michael Pascucilla, the director of Health for the East Shore District Health Department.

Oils from roads, fertilizers and even fecal matter wash into storm drains, which empty into the Long Island Sound, impacting bacteria levels.

"I work inland and there are signs right by the sewer drains that tell you all drains lead out to Long Island Sound," said Melissa Barbero of Branford.

A Yale student working with the East Shore District Health Department says climate change is causing sea levels to rise, another compounding factor.

"The temperature will also affect the rainfall," said Rich Wu. "So, we will get more precipitation in the future or at least get more intense and more frequent storms," which means more bacteria.

However, for now, we are roughly six inches below the normal rainfall level for this year.

"This particular beach (Branford Point) has not been closed, not just this year, but even last year," said Pascucilla.

"My daughter is just learning to swim and she is inhaling a lot of water," said Lisa Brown, a Branford mother. "So, you know, it's nice to know that the beaches are clean and that the water is safe."

Boaters can also help keep the Sound clean by calling for the district's pump out boat, which will remove your waste for free. To schedule a pump out, call 203-430-9305 or use your boat's radio on VHF channel 9.

"It's really important that people do not dump their waste out there," said Pascucilla, who noted that it is against state law.

And, he says, thanks to a collaboration between local health departments, the state and nonprofits, the Long Island Sound is experiencing a resurgence.

"We are seeing a fish species come back We are seeing mammals come back. We have seals and whales and dolphins and it's really nice to see."

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