May 28, 2010

EPA Launches Annual Efforts to Protect Beaches and Bays

Program contains many components, including shellfish bed water quality monitoring, grants to states to help with beach monitoring and development of pollution discharge limits

With the beginning of the beach season, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is again undertaking a beach and harbor protection program to safeguard beaches and bays in New Jersey and New York, and protect the health of the people who enjoy them. EPA’s program, which includes helicopter surveillance, sampling and state funding, kicked off May 25, with helicopter flights searching for floating debris in the New York/New Jersey Harbor.

“EPA is on the job every summer helping to make sure that beachgoers can enjoy the water without worry,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck. “Our efforts ensure that the public receives information about the quality of the water at local beaches so they can make informed decisions about where to spend time enjoying the water with friends and families.”

Working together with other federal, state and local agencies, EPA’s program operates seven days a week. This comprehensive, science-based beach and coastal water program has many components, including shellfish bed water quality monitoring, grants to states to help with their beach monitoring and public notification programs and the development of pollution discharge limits, called total maximum daily loads, for the New York/New Jersey Harbor and the New York Bight. This summer, EPA will use its boats, including its Ocean Survey Vessel BOLD, to collect water samples and further assess the influence of nutrients, such as nitrogen, on dissolved oxygen levels.

Low dissolved oxygen levels can negatively impact aquatic ecosystems and can lead to fish kills. As they do every summer, EPA scientists will fly over the New York/New Jersey Harbor in EPA’s helicopter, the Coastal Crusader, searching for floating debris, and it will again collect water samples near shellfish beds and along the New Jersey coast for dissolved oxygen.

In 2007, EPA began the evaluation of a new rapid method of testing beach water for bacteria that cause gastrointestinal illnesses. The prior assessments show promise as a beach monitoring tool. Conventional methods require 24 hours for results while the new method can provide results in as little as three hours after sample collection. EPA will continue its assessment of this rapid test technology this summer to further refine this new method and evaluate results under various environmental conditions.