Is Your Beach Safe?

Last week, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released their 22nd annual “Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches’ report, bringing government beachwater testing results from more than 3,000 locations nationwide into an extensive, easily accessible, zip code-searchable online database.

“We’re releasing the report in advance of the July 4th holiday, because we know that millions of Americans are making their beach vacation plans,” said NRDC Senior Lawyer Jon Devine.

This year’s “Testing the Waters’ includes a list of America’s “5-star rated” beaches, which were honored for their premium water quality, testing practices and public notification procedures throughout 2011, as well as a list of “repeat offender” beaches that throughout the years have consistently exhibited high bacteria counts.

Only 12 beaches made the 5-star rating list and Orange County, California, beaches (specifically Newport, Bolsa Chica and Huntington State) took the top three slots. Alabama’s Gulf Shores and Gulf State Park grabbed #4 and #5, followed by Delaware’s Dewey Beach, Ocean City Beach in Maryland, the 13th Street South and Lafayette Community Club beaches in Minnesota, New Hampshire’s Hampton Beach State Park and Wallis Sands Beach and South Padre Island Beach in Texas. States with the lowest overall rates of beachwater contamination were Delaware, New Hampshire, North Carolina, New Jersey, Florida, Virginia and Hawaii.

The “repeat offenders’ list was topped by California’s Avalon and Doheny State beaches, but soon thereafter, Cameron County, Louisiana, beaches took over the list with a vengeance. A whopping five out of the 15 offender beaches were in this dirty water-stricken region, including Constance, Gulf Breeze, Little Florida, Long Beach and Rutherford beaches. Louisiana as a whole ranked highest in state-wide beachwater violation rates, in part due to the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, which prompted nearly 2,000 closing days. Over the course of two years, the BP spill has resulted in more than 10,000 beach closure, advisory and notice days at 88 beaches in four states, the report stated.

Nationally, there were a total of 23,481 closing and swimming advisory days last year—the third-largest amount recorded by the NRDC in more than two decades. The majority of the beach closings and swimming advisories were due to the presence of human or animal waste bacteria at levels high enough to be deemed a public health violation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Waste contamination in beachwater primarily derives from stormwater runoff or sewage overflows and can cause a range of illnesses in swimmers, including stomach flu, skin rashes, pink eye, ear, nose and throat problems, dysentery and hepatitis. The EPA has estimated that up to 3.5 million people become ill from contact with raw sewage from sewer overflows each year.

To ensure beach-goers are able to enjoy safe days in the sand and surf, NRDC is calling on the EPA to implement widespread “green infrastructure solutions’ that effectively control stormwater runoff pollution. EPA defines green infrastructure as “weaving natural processes into the built environment.” These projects, which include porous pavement, green rooftops, ocean-friendly gardens, tree plantings, curbside vegetation and rainwater collection barrels, also cool and cleanse the air, add a natural aesthetic to communities, reduce energy costs and boost economies.

“If EPA follows NRDC’s advice…I expect future editions of ‘Testing the Waters’ will tell a much happier tale,” Devine added. “In the meantime, though, there are lots of great beaches in America, so use our guide to finding a clean beach…and have fun this summer.”