In the wake of Hurricane Sandy flood water has been contaminated with everything from raw sewage to floating debris to small ocean dwelling organisms. You have to wonder, “where will all of this water go?” Most of the water from the storm surge will flow back out to the ocean, but some will inevitably seep into groundwater and flow into nearby rivers and lakes. Aside from how all of this contamination will affect drinking water, how will it affect the ecosystems of the nearby water bodies?
Luckily, the U.S. Geological Survey wants to answer the same question. During and after flooding events related to hurricanes, USGS collects water samples to help us understand how the hurricane and associated flooding will affect water quality now and in the future. This happened after Hurricane Irene last year and will presumably happen in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. USGS will monitor concentrations of nutrients, sediment, carbon, E. coli and pesticides. Hurricane Sandy produced the greatest storm surge in modern history. The immense amount of stormwater runoff that will occur because of this storm could flush large quantities of nutrients, pesticides and bacteria into rivers, alter sediment flow and result in higher concentrations of E. coli in surface water used for drinking. In fact, raw sewage has already spilled into some floodwaters due to inundation of treatment facilities.
All of the excessive nutrients being dumped into floodwater, which will empty into nearby rivers, streams and coastal areas, could cause large algal blooms. These algal blooms could in turn limit recreational activities, threaten commercial and recreational fisheries and alter aquatic ecosystems in general. And what about all of that extra sediment that’s been washed inland from the beaches? It’s safe to say Hurricane Sandy will have far-reaching and long-lasting effects on water quality, so be sure to follow the progress of USGS here and on their website as they begin sampling.
Owens, David. “Some Sewer Plants Knocked Out by Storm; Restoration Efforts Underway.” The Hartford Courant. http://cour.at/SoUp3G