Beach Report: 10 Percent of America’s Beach Water Samples Fail Safety Test

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NRDC’s Annual Report Reveals Nation’s 35 “Superstar” Beaches, but 17 “Repeat Offenders” Highlight Need for Clean Water Protections to Safeguard Swimmers


WASHINGTON (June 25, 2014) – Ten percent of all water quality samples collected last year from nearly 3,500 coastal and Great Lakes beaches in the U.S. contained bacteria levels that failed to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s most protective benchmark for swimmer safety. According to the 24th annual beach report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the findings confirm that serious water pollution persists at many U.S. seashores, with massive stormwater runoff and sewage overflows historically being the largest known sources of the problem.

“Sewage and contaminated runoff in the water should never ruin a family beach trip,” said NRDC senior attorney Jon Devine. “But no matter where you live, urban slobber and other pollution can seriously compromise the water quality at your favorite beach and make your family sick. To help keep us healthy at the beach and stem the tide of water pollution, our government leaders can finalize a critical proposal – the Clean Water Protection Rule – to restore vital protections for the streams and wetlands that help sustain clean beaches.”

Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches collects and analyzes the latest water testing results from the EPA and state beach coordinators at nearly 3,500 beach testing locations nationwide. The 24th annual report card examines the various causes of water pollution that plague America’s beaches and presents crucial, timely opportunities to keep pollution out of America’s beaches, lakes and rivers.

This year, the report found 35 popular “superstar” beaches with excellent water quality, and flagged 17 “repeat offenders” that exhibited chronic water pollution problems. It also includes an updated, mobile-friendly map of nearly 3,500 beaches nationwide that is searchable by zip code, making it easier than ever for users to check important water quality information at their local beaches.

Find the full report, superstars, repeat offenders and zip code-searchable map here: http://www.nrdc.org/beaches.                                                                          

This year’s Testing the Waters report comes at a time when the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers are considering taking important action to clean up tributary streams and wetlands around the country, a move that can help better protect people at the beach. The agencies’ proposed Clean Water Protection Rule would strengthen pollution safeguards for nearly two million miles of streams and millions of acres of wetlands connected to larger bodies of water. These water bodies help filter out harmful contaminants and prevent polluted runoff before it can reach America’s beaches.

THE NATION’S 35 “SUPERSTAR” BEACHES

NRDC designated 35 popular beaches across 14 states as “superstars” – popular beaches for consistently meeting water quality safety thresholds. Each of these beaches met national water quality benchmarks 98% of the time over the past five years:

  • Alabama: Gulf Shores Public Beach in Baldwin County

  • Alabama: Gulf State Park Pavilion in Baldwin County

  • Alabama:  Dauphin Island Public Beach

  • California: Newport Beach in Orange County (1 of 3 monitored sections)

    • Newport Beach - 38th Street

  • Delaware: Dewey Beach-Swedes in Sussex County

  • Florida: Bowman’s Beach in Lee County

  • Florida: Coquina Beach South in Manatee County

  • Florida: Fort Desoto North Beach in Pinellas County

  • Georgia: Tybee Island North in Chatham County

  • Hawaii: Hapuna Beach St. Rec. Area in Big Island       

  • Hawaii: Po’ipu Beach Park in Kauai

  • Hawaii: Wailea Beach Park in Maui

  • Massachusetts: Singing Beach in Essex County

  • Maryland: Point Lookout State Park in St Mary's County

  • Maryland: Assateague State Park in Worcester County

  • North Carolina: Ocean Pier at Main St. and Sunset Blvd. in Brunswick County

  • North Carolina: Beach at Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in Dare County

  • North Carolina: Ocean Pier at Salisbury Street in Wrightsville Beach in New Hanover  

  • North Carolina: Ocean Pier at Ocean Blvd. and Crews Ave. in Topsail Beach in Pender County           

  • New Hampshire: Hampton Beach State Park in Rockingham County

  • New Hampshire: Wallis Sands Beach at Wallis Rd. in Rockingham County

  • New Hampshire: Wallis Sands State Park in Rockingham County

  • New Jersey: Washington (Margate) in Atlantic County

  • New Jersey: 40th St. (Avalon) in Cape May County

  • New Jersey: 40th St. (Sea Isle City) in Cape May County

  • New Jersey: Stone Harbor at 96th St. in Cape May County

  • New Jersey: Upper Township at Webster Rd. in Cape May County

  • New Jersey: Wildwood Crest at Orchid in Cape May County

  • New Jersey: Broadway (Pt. Pleasant Beach) in Ocean County

  • New York: Long Beach City in Nassau County

  • Virginia: Virginia Beach at 28th St. in Virginia Beach County    

  • Virginia: Virginia Beach at 45th St in Virginia Beach County

  • Virginia: Back Bay Beach in Virginia Beach County

  • Virginia: Virginia Beach - Little Island Beach North in Virginia Beach County

  • Washington: Westhaven State Park, South Jetty in Grays Harbor          

THE NATION’S 17 “REPEAT OFFENDERS”

Over the last five years of this report, sections of 17 U.S. beaches have stood out as having persistent contamination problems, with water samples failing to meet public health benchmarks more than 25 percent of the time each year from 2009 to 2013:

  • California: Malibu Pier, 50 yards east of the pier, in Los Angeles County

  • Indiana: Jeorse Park Beach in Lake County (both monitored sections):

    • Lake Jeorse Park Beach I 

    • Lake Jeorse Park Beach II

  • Massachusetts: Cockle Cove Creek in Barnstable County

  • Maine: Goodies Beach in Knox County

  • New Jersey: Beachwood Beach in Ocean County

  • New York: Main Street Beach in Chautauqua County

  • New York: Wright Park – East in Chautauqua County

  • New York: Ontario Beach in Monroe County

  • Ohio: Lakeshore Park in Ashtabula County

  • Ohio: Arcadia Beach in Cuyahoga County

  • Ohio: Euclid State Park in Cuyahoga County

  • Ohio: Noble Beach in Cuyahoga County

  • Ohio: Sims Beach in Cuyahoga County

  • Ohio: Villa Angela State Park in Cuyahoga County

  • Ohio: Edson Creek in Erie County

  • Wisconsin: South Shore Beach in Milwaukee County

Important note: some of these beaches have multiple sections that are tested for water quality, and in some instances only certain sections of a beach qualified for the repeat offender list. 

NATIONAL FINDINGS – 2013:

This year’s report found that 10 percent of beach water samples taken nationwide in 2013 failed to meet the most protective federal public health threshold used to assess water quality at American beaches – EPA’s newly created “Beach Action Value” (BAV).

Based on EPA’s BAV safety threshold, the Great Lakes region had the highest failure rate of beach water quality samples, with 13 percent of samples failing to pass the safety test in 2013. The Delmarva region had the lowest failure rate, with 4 percent of samples failing the safety test. In between were the Gulf Coast (12 percent), New England (11 percent), the Western Coast (9 percent), the New York and New Jersey coasts (7 percent), and the Southeast (7 percent).

Individual states with the highest failure rates of reported water samples in 2013 were Ohio (35 percent), Alaska (24 percent) and Mississippi (21 percent). Those with the lowest failure rates last year were Delaware (3 percent), New Hampshire (3 percent) and New Jersey (3 percent).

The national results in this year’s report show an uptick in failure rates for beach water quality safety due to the Beach Action Value, which is a more protective health benchmark used for the first time in 2013 in lieu of a now defunct and less-protective beach water quality standard. Seven percent of beaches failed to meet the old, less-protective standard in 2012, 8 percent in both 2011 and 2010, and 7 percent each year from 2006 to 2009. The new use of BAV has also resulted in a shift in state-based results, showing an increase in failure rates in many states across the country.

The EPA estimates that up to 3.5 million people become ill from contact with raw sewage from sanitary overflows each year. Beach water pollution nationwide causes a range of waterborne illnesses in swimmers including stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, ear, nose and throat problems, dysentery, hepatitis, respiratory ailments, neurological disorders, and other serious health problems. For senior citizens, small children and people with weak immune systems, the results can even be fatal.

Under the federal Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act, states regularly test their beach water for bacteria found in human and animal waste. These bacteria often indicate the presence of various pathogens. When beach managers determine that water contamination failed relevant health standards – or in some cases when a state suspects levels would be high, such as after heavy rain – they notify the public through beach closures or advisories.

THE EVERGREEN SOLUTIONS – PROTECTING ALL SMALL STREAMS AND WETLANDS:

The most immediate and high-priority action to address water pollution at the nation’s beaches is to finalize and adopt the Clean Water Protection Rule proposed by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. This federal rule would ensure tributary streams and wetlands are protected from pollution under the Clean Water Act. The proposed rule is critical to virtually all communities and beachgoers, impacting the hundreds of billions of dollars spent annually on outdoor recreation. The proposed rule, officially known as the “Waters of the U.S. Rule,” is open for public comment until October 20 and demands a strong showing of public support to become final.

“Small streams and wetlands are as close to us as a dip at your favorite beach or the tap in your kitchen,” said Steve Fleischli, Director of the Water Program at NRDC. “Standing behind EPA’s Clean Water Protection Rule will ensure our families have pristine, unpolluted water to enjoy for generations to come. The rule deserves our support.”

By removing harmful pollutants and bacteria from water that passes through them and by retaining stormwater that leads to major pollution problems, wetlands and streams help ensure larger water bodies within the watershed—and ultimately, beaches—are safe for various uses. That’s because streams—regardless of their size and flow pattern—and wetlands near rivers, lakes and other waters are “physically, chemically, and biologically connected to downstream rivers,” according a major assessment by EPA scientists published in 2013.

For the past decade, however, these headwater streams have not been fully and clearly protected from pollution because of two U.S. Supreme Court decisions on Clean Water Act jurisdiction in 2001 and 2006. These decisions left many of the nation’s streams and wetlands without clear protection from polluters. As a result, the EPA is often unable to hold polluters accountable when it comes to these waters. The proposed Clean Water Protection Rule would help resolve this problem.

THE EVERGREEN SOLUTIONS – BOOSTING GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE:

Every year, more than 10 trillion gallons of untreated stormwater, including hundreds of billions of gallons of untreated sewage overflows, make their way into America’s waterways, according to the EPA. Contaminated runoff has historically been the largest known source of beach water pollution.

The best way to keep this pollution out of America’s beach water is to prevent it from the start – by investing in smarter, greener infrastructure on land, like porous pavement, green roofs, parks, roadside plantings and rain barrels. Green infrastructure addresses stormwater pollution by stopping rain where it falls, enabling it to evaporate or filter into the ground naturally instead of carrying runoff from dirty streets to our beaches.

Sensible green infrastructure solutions keep stormwater from becoming wastewater and prevent sewage systems from overflowing. These techniques turn rainwater from a huge pollution liability into a plentiful, local water supply resource.  They also beautify neighborhoods, cool and cleanse the air, reduce asthma and heat-related illnesses, save on heating and cooling energy costs, boost economies, and support American jobs.

Already, scores of cities and states are reaping the benefits of green infrastructure solutions to meet clean water requirements and create healthier, more resilient communities. These improvements will enable our cities to meet clean water goals more cost-effectively. States, municipalities, businesses and citizens have an immediate opportunity to clean up pollution at America’s beaches by incentivizing and adopting green infrastructure approaches. The EPA can also help cities meet clean water goals and promote green infrastructure by using existing Clean Water Act authority to require sources of polluted runoff to clean up. 

FOR MORE INFORMATION:


The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter .

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