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Spatial and temporal patterns of sewage indicator bacteria in Boston Harbor and its tributary rivers. Kelly Coughlin Environmental Quality, MWRA. 90 sampling stations near CSOs, harbor beaches, treatment plant outfalls, offshore. Mass Bay Bacteria Monitoring.

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Spatial and temporal patterns of sewage indicator bacteria in Boston Harbor and its tributary rivers

Kelly Coughlin

Environmental Quality, MWRA

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Mass Bay Bacteria Monitoring plant outfalls, offshore

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Overview of bacterial monitoring in Boston Harbor and Mass Bay

  • CSO Receiving Water Monitoring

    - ongoing since 1989

    - 50 locations in harbor and tributary rivers

    - 90 surveys per year, 25 station visits per year

  • Joint MWRA/DCR Harbor Beach Monitoring

    - ongoing since 1996 (DCR since 1974)

    - five harbor beaches

    - ~70 sampling days during swimming season

  • Mass Bay Bacteria Monitoring

    - since 1999

    - eleven locations in vicinity of outfall

    - one monthly survey plus adverse surveys

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Bacterial Indicators Measured by MWRA Bay

  • Enterococcus measured continuously since 1989 in fresh and marine waters

  • Fecal coliform in Mass Bay (discontinued for harbor and beach monitoring in 2001, but has resumed for 2008 harbor sampling)

  • E. coli beginning in 2001, now freshwater only

  • Enterococcus is required indicator for marine beaches and marine receiving waters (EPA, MADPH, MADEP).

  • E. coli is required indicator for CSO receiving waters, freshwater

  • Fecal coliform is required indicator for shellfish growing waters (FDA/MADMF)

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Dotted line is swimming standard, Bay

33 counts/100 mL


Harbor Tributary Rivers

( Note different scale )

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Dotted line is swimming standard, Bay

35 counts/100 mL


Inner Harbor & Embayments

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Former Harbor Outfalls BayBefore and after closure









Dotted line is swimming standard, 35 counts/100 mL Enterococcus

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Wet weather BayEnterococcus, 1987-1991


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1992 - 1998 Bay

1992 -1998

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1999 - 2007 Bay

1999 - 2007

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Harbor Beach Monitoring Bay

MWRA assists Mass. Dept. of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) with daily beach monitoring at four beaches:

  • Constitution Beach in East Boston

  • Carson Beach and Pleasure Bay Beach in South Boston

  • Tenean Beach in Dorchester

  • Wollaston Beach in Quincy

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Harbor beach water quality Bay

% exceedences of Enterococcus single sample limit at harbor beaches, 1987 - 2007

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Wet weather impacts Bayon harbor beaches are variable

% Enterococcus exceedences at Wollaston, all locations combined

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Mass Bay Bacteria Monitoring Bay

  • 31 of 1179 samples collected since 2000 have exceeded the unrestricted shellfishing standard of 14 counts/100 mL

  • 2 Enterococcus samples have exceeded the single sample swimming standard of 104 counts/100 mL

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Summary of Long Term Trends Bay

  • CSO Receiving Water: dramatic improvements in tributary rivers, less change for locations further from shore; wet weather continues to affect water quality

  • Harbor Beaches: little improvement in water quality over time, postings primarily triggered by wet weather events

  • Mass Bay: vast majority of samples meet shellfishing and swimming standards, though exceedences do occasionally occur

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Acknowledgements Bay

  • Keary Berger, John Wladkowski, Christopher Dorman, the harbor field team at DITP Central Lab

  • Laura Ducott, Microbiology, DITP Central Lab