With people depending on fishing as a source of food, and some still going out to the beach as a form of recreation, the Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality continues to prioritize public health through its water quality monitoring program.
Division of Environmental Quality director Jonathan Arriola said in an interview that BECQ’s priority is to safeguard people’s health and the environment. That means that, while BECQ is closed to the public, following the two-week government shutdown, the office continues to monitor the quality of CNMI waters.
“Water quality is very important,” Arriola said. “It’s really both marine and freshwater. [We are] determining the amount of micro bacteria that’s in our water and making sure that our water standards, especially the microbial standards, are in compliance.”
“We want to make sure that people don’t get sick because they’re swimming into an area that has a high number of bacteria, or fecal coliform is indicated in the water. We just want to make sure that [people] don’t get sick,” he added.
DEQ employees continue to sample beach sites all over the CNMI—50 on Saipan, 10 on Tinian, and 12 on Rota—for bacteria levels, and beaches that would be found to have high bacteria counts are issued red flags, with advisories that people not swim nor fish in those locations.
“People are still out at the beaches, using the beaches for recreation, for fishing,” BECQ’s water quality surveillance manager Larry Maurin said. “In this time when we have a national public health crisis, we need to do everything we can to protect public health, keeping the public healthy.”
“We want to prevent people from getting sick not just during this crisis, but anytime. It’s all the more important to be doing that right now, while there’s these [COVID-19 threats], we need to keep people healthy and out of the hospital as much as we can,” he added.
Samples taken from the beach sites on all three islands are processed and analyzed at the BECQ laboratory.
“Our goal is for public health. If somebody goes fishing and the waters [are unsafe], people are going to be sick,” BECQ laboratory manager Charito Bautista said.
Aside from beach quality water monitoring, BECQ also monitors drinking water through its Safe Drinking Water program.