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Municipal Guide To Clean Water: Conducting Sanitary Surveys to Improve Coastal Water Quality

Some activities, such as dye-testing septic systems and checking sewer connections, require the expertise and training of professionals like code enforcement of- ficers, plumbing inspectors, and state and federal agency staff. Property surveys should also be completed or supervised by state and/or local officials who have statu- tory authority to investigate potential pollution sources on private property (see Part IV). Volunteers should not conduct property surveys without the assistance of the local plumbing inspector and/or state agency staff. Other tasks involved in completing a sanitary survey, such as gathering background information, mapping, collecting water samples, and outreach efforts, do not require statutory authority and can be accomplished by volunteers. Monitoring of water quality requires permis- sion from private property owners and training from MHB and/or DMR staff for quality assurance and quality control purposes.

How does the sanitary survey fit in with other water quality management efforts?

The sanitary survey is just one part of an overall water quality management plan. A management plan promoting healthy beaches and shellfish growing areas should include:

  • An initial risk assessment of the shoreline and drainage area.

  • Development or improvement of a water quality monitoring plan specifically for the identified area.

  • A notification plan to communicate risk levels to the public.

  • An ongoing sanitary survey of the shoreline and adjacent watershed.

  • Cooperation to resolve pollution sources.

  • A means of measuring the success of pollution control efforts.

  • An effort to educate and increase awareness about land use and local pollution problems.

  • A long-term community action plan to protect and improve water quality.

What is the scope of the survey?

Before beginning background research and field data collection, it is usually helpful to define the watershed or drainage area affecting the beach or shellfish growing area of concern. Each bay, beach, pond, stream, etc. has its own watershed or drainage basin encompassing all of the land that drains to it or its outflow point (e.g., mouth of a river, stream, storm drain). Larger wa- tersheds contain many smaller sub-watersheds, and the focus of the sanitary survey will depend on the particular area(s) of concern.19

Is it feasible to conduct a sanitary survey for the entire watershed?

Large rivers, areas with high human population densities, and large watersheds can contain numerous pollution sources. Survey work should be prioritized. For example, the first “tier” of survey work should include areas where contaminants have been documented and have the most direct or greatest impact on coastal water quality. In areas impacted by rivers and streams, the first tier of the survey may encompass the shoreline extending upstream to the head-of-tide region.

How far should the survey extend inland?

Sanitary surveys are not limited to properties that border surface waters, as roadside ditches, storm drains, and sea- sonal streams serve as conduits for wastewater to beaches and shellfish growing areas. The extent of the survey is not always easily determined, especially in areas impacted by large river systems. Collecting water samples upriver to pinpoint potential sources can help answer this question, but often the availability of resources is the determining

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