U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s New England office announced the funding at one of the 42 beaches participating in Maine’s Coastal Beach Program, a four-year-old effort to improve monitoring and overall water quality at state coastal beaches. Kennebunkport began participating in the state’s beach monitoring program last year.
“Because Maine’s beach season is so short, it makes every beach day a precious one,” said Linda Murphy, EPA New England’s senior official, responsible for beach water quality issues. “Active monitoring of water quality not only helps to reduce the number of days our beaches are closed, but also helps us find the source of any potential contamination.”
Maine is making significant progress in its efforts to monitor water quality at beaches, with 42 beaches now regularly monitoring for water quality, as contrasted with the fact that in 2001, only three Maine beaches performed monitoring. As more beaches participate in the program data about the status of the beaches will continue to improve. The number of beach closure days in any given year in Maine has been low. According to the most recent Healthy Coastal Beaches Program data, there were 15 days that advisories were issued at coastal beaches statewide in 2004 because of elevated bacteria samples.
"Maine has had the unique opportunity to observe the other states in the northeast to learn from their programs in the development and implementation of the Maine Healthy Beaches Program,” said Sue Inches, deputy director of the State Planning Office. “The Maine State Planning Office's partnership with the University of Maine/Sea Grant and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services has developed a successful grassroots approach to safe swimming in Maine.”
Because of the length of its coastline and the number of beaches in the state, Maine has received the largest amount of Beach Grant funds given out in the New England region over the past five years. Since 2001, EPA has awarded the State of Maine almost $1.1 million for its beach program, with the New England total being approximately $4.9 million. The EPA funding was made available through EPA's Clean New England Beaches Initiative, which is making nearly $1.2 million available this summer to the region's five coastal states. The Federal Beach Act, approved by Congress in 2000, made the funding possible.
Across New England last year, about one quarter of the region's 1,000 coastal beaches were closed at least one day last summer due to pollution, for a total of about 1,000 missed beach days. That's a tangible improvement from 2001, when the region's saltwater beaches had nearly 1,400 beach closure days.
Launched four summers ago, EPA's New England Beaches Initiative selected 11 flagship beaches across New England. These beaches were chosen as models for other beach managers and are based on several criteria: serving large populations; a history of beach closures due to pollution; high quality monitoring already in place; and a strong potential for state and federal resources to be used.
Polluted runoff and untreated sewage released into the water can contain bacteria, viruses, and protozoans, some of which can cause minor illnesses such as gastroenteritis or more serious diseases such as hepatitis. Runoff can be contaminated from pet waste, wildlife, illicit connections and various other sources. Sources of sewage include leaking sewer pipes, failing septic systems, boats and combined sewer overflows.