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Delaware officials have temporarily closed the Rehoboth Bay to shellfish harvesting after thousands of gallons of untreated wastewater spilled from a residential sewer line.  

The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control says the moratorium issued Tuesday applies to harvesting oysters, clams and mussels. It will be in effect for 21 days unless further spills occur.

"That doesn't mean that you as a consumer cannot have any shellfish for 21 days," said DNREC Chief Communications Officer Nikki Lavoie. "The harvest closure will be in effect for 21 days, or through January 18th, 2022. The 21-day suspension on shellfish harvest is a federal guideline. So bacteria levels from any event will return to background levels usually faster than the 21 days, but federal guidelines have established this period just to be protective of any and all pathogens related to wastewater spill."

Officials said the spill happened when a plumbing contractor cut a sewer line in Mariner’s Cove mobile home park. Ending the threat is step one, Lavoie noted, and then an investigation into the circumstances around the incident is conducted. 

"Our first priority is to get on the scene to make sure that the spill has stopped. We file a report and we do proper notifications," Lavoie said. "The growers are notified individually, and then there's some investigation and work that that will continue in the future."

Natural Resources Police immediately dispatched an officer when the spill was reported Tuesday morning and the spill had stopped. Officials also warned people to limit their contact with water in the bay, particularly near the site of the spill.

To reassure consumers in the area, Lavoie reminded them that part of DNREC's mission will be to continue monitoring water quality levels even beyond the immediate threat of the contamination period.

"Testing for water quality in all shellfish growing areas, including Rehoboth Bay, occurs year-round in Delaware by DNREC professionals. So, routine testing will continue to occur during the closure period as part of the normal sampling required," Lavoie said. "We're going to continue testing during the 21-day closure period, and we're going to continue testing because we test...as part of our routine process. That will not change, and consumers who are wondering whether or not they can eat shellfish from the Rehoboth Bay area or from Delaware can have that assurance, knowing that we take those precautions, and the industry does as well."