The water at American beaches was seriously polluted and jeopardized the health of swimmers last year with the number of closing and advisory days at ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches reaching more than 20,000 for the fourth consecutive year, according to the 19th annual beach water quality report released recently by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
“Pollution from dirty storm water runoff and sewage overflows continues to make its way to our beaches. This not only makes swimmers sick—it hurts coastal economies,” said Nancy Stoner, NRDC Water Program co-director. “Americans should not suffer the consequences of contaminated beach water. From contracting the flu or pink eye, to jeopardizing millions of jobs and billions of dollars that rely on clean coasts, there are serious costs to inaction.”
Using data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, NRDC’s report—“Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches”—confirms that our nation’s beach waters continue to suffer from serious contamination, including human and animal waste, that can make people sick.
NRDC’s report also provides a five-star rating guide for 200 of the nation’s most popular beaches, based on indicators of beach water quality, monitoring frequency and public notification of contamination. Five-star beaches included Gulf Shores Public Beach, Ala.; Laguna Beach-Main Beach, Calif.; Bolsa Chica State Beach in Huntington Beach, Calif.; Newport Beach, Calif.; Ocean City, Md.; Park Point–Community Club Beach in Duluth, Minn.; and Hampton Beach State Park in Hampton, N.H. Some of the lowest ranking beaches (1-star) were Zach’s Bay at Jones Beach State Park in Wantagh, N.Y.; Ocean Beach Park in New London, Conn.; Venice Public Beach, Fla.; and Central Beach in Point Pleasant, N.J.
While the report found a 10% decrease in closing and advisory days at beaches nationwide from 2007, it reveals this drop was the result of dry conditions in many parts of the country and decreased funding for water monitoring in some states last year, rather than a sign of large-scale improvement. The decline follows two years of record-high closing and advisory days and the primary pollution source, storm water runoff after heavy rains, continues to be a serious problem that has not been addressed.
“When the rains return,” Stoner said, “so will pollution, forcing beaches to issue more closings and advisory days.”
For the full report, go to www.nrdc.org/beaches.
For the first time, the report this year explores the effects of climate change on beach water quality, revealing that climate change is expected to make pollution worse. The combined effects of temperature increases, and more frequent and intense rainstorms, will lead to increased storm water runoff, sewer pollution and disease-causing pathogens in nearby waterways. Specifically, climate change is anticipated to influence the presence of pathogens that cause stomach flu, diarrhea and neurological problems in America’s beach water.
While there was an overall decrease in closing and advisory days from 2007 nationwide, from 22,571 to 20,341 days, regionally the picture varied. Dry conditions led to decreases in closings and advisories for 2008 in the Delmarva Peninsula (67%), Gulf of Mexico (39%), California and Hawaii (21%) and the Southeast (12%). Wetter than usual conditions, however, led to an increase in closing and advisory days in New England (64%) and the Great Lakes (13%).