Boston-Area Beaches Shut Down During Hottest Week of the Year

Bacteria contamination forced dozens of beaches to close to swimming – including the one in my Dorchester neighborhood

A sign warns swimmers to stay out of the water on Dorchester's Savin Hill Beach because of bacteria contamination

No swimming signs have been posted on several Boston-area beaches. Photo: Jake O'Neill

Living in a densely populated Boston neighborhood like Dorchester means I have access to great restaurants, shops, parks, and public transit a short walk from my home. This accessibility is the reason I choose to live in the city over the quieter suburbs, and I try to take advantage of it whenever I can.

With the unrelenting heat and humidity gripping Boston and most of New England these past weeks, access to outdoor space with water or shade is a necessity for me and my neighbors to cool off and get some fresh air. Urban neighborhoods like mine often lack enough tree cover and can be several degrees warmer than leafier suburbs.

That’s why I’m lucky to have Savin Hill Beach located about a ten-minute walk from my house. It’s one of many urban beaches in the city, and it boasts shallow water, a playground, and plenty of shaded spots to enjoy the summer weather. I walk down after dinner on many warm nights to sit by the water and take advantage of the ocean breeze. Many of my neighbors do the same thing, and I often see children and dogs splashing in the water to cool off.

But this past week – one of the hottest so far this summer – my neighbors and I arrived at the beach to find signs warning us not to swim in the water. The problem? Like many beaches throughout Massachusetts, Savin Hill Beach was forced to close for swimming due to high levels of bacteria in the water. Which means no more respite from the heat.

Bacteria Levels Surged Due to Outdated Stormwater System

The increased bacteria levels result from Boston’s antiquated stormwater system, which combines rainwater and sewage in the same pipes. When we receive the heavy, climate-driven rainfall we’re seeing this summer, that outdated system can’t handle all the water flowing through the pipes. It ends up discharging raw sewage into Boston Harbor and along beaches throughout the city.

This is a real threat to public health and wildlife, and it’s happening far too often. This pollution has shut down dozens of beaches throughout the state, denying thousands of people the opportunity to swim and cool off.

This Summer’s Record-breaking Heat and Floods Will Only Get Worse

As the Earth warms, increased rainfall and flooding are becoming more common, and we’re seeing these impacts here in New England this summer. While taking action to address the climate crisis will help, we need to be prepared for more frequent and intense storms as the new normal.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy fix to this disgusting problem. The city and state ultimately need to step up and update this outdated system so that stormwater and rainfall can be managed without mixing in raw sewage. We’re only going to see more rain in the coming years, and now is the time to get serious about preparing for it. We also need to invest in better treatment technology to stop this pollution before it reaches public waters.

No One Should Have to Worry that a Dip in the Ocean Will Make Them Ill

Urban beaches like mine in Savin Hill are a necessary tool in helping city residents cope with the extreme heat that’s becoming more common each year. Open spaces like these are also important year-round in giving people who live in crowded neighborhoods areas to spread out and spend time with their families and friends. No one wants to visit a beach or swim in water polluted with human waste.

It’s time we hold our leaders accountable to solve this problem once and for all. Otherwise, we’re going to be looking at a lot more days of closed, polluted beaches and overheated communities.

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