LINCOLN COUNTY — The work of the Newport Chapter of Surfrider Foundation’s Blue Water Task Force (BWTF) is an example of the effectiveness of citizen science, the power of enlisting passionate volunteers and how, with a productive relationship with city management, improvement is made to ensure citizen safety.
“Dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s ocean, waves and beaches through a powerful activist network,” Surfrider’s website (surfrider.org) explains. “We’re moms, we’re surfers, we’re kids and teens…we’re you. We’re engaged to protect what we love: oceans, waves and beaches.”
The BWTF collects and tests more than 400 water samples per year in locations between Yachats and Lincoln City. Bob Trusty is the Newport BWTF coordinator, instructing the volunteers on safe water sampling.
“Never turn your back on the ocean,” Trusty cautioned as he waded into the water beneath the stormwater outflow at Newport’s Nye Beach, sampling the water and measuring the temperature.
“Without Surfrider doing this testing, we wouldn’t know,” said Newport Mayor Dean Sawyer of the results BWTF provides the city. “We don’t have the money or the staff.”
Sawyer continued, “The bottom line is we would like to have all those outfall readings at zero. We don’t want tourists coming down here and not being able to go on the beach.”
Bri Goodwin, Surfrider’s Oregon field manager, said the city has been responsive when testing has revealed consistent high bacteria.
“Over the past several years, the city has done smoke testing of the storm and sanitary sewers, dye testing and televising with condition rating to identify locations where bacteria or sewage could be entering the storm sewer system,” said Tim Gross, Newport public works director.
Notable, also, is how Surfrider includes future scientists in the process, reaching out to local students. The Oregon Coast Aquarium’s Student Scholar’s Program reads samples that are collected by adult volunteers.
At Neighbors for Kids, an after-school program in Depoe Bay, students as young as six years old process and read the water samples, learning proper laboratory procedures such as dilution and pipetting and understanding causes and effects of bacteria in water.
On Wednesday, Jan. 22, students seemed disappointed that the samples were negative, indicating no bacteria.
“Negative is good,” an adult volunteer reminded them after they read and charted the results. However, the students indicated that it was more exciting and colorful (the sample turning blue when bacteria is present) when the results are positive.
“February is coming,” one student said, explaining that last February saw many positive results, predicting that they will see positive samples next month.
Goodwin noted that in the latest round of testing, Elizabeth Street in Newport was the only site with high bacteria. She said that because the site has low outflow, they don’t believe the issue is caused by infrastructure.