How Safe is the Water at Your Favorite Beach?
A new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reveals that 10 percent of all beaches in the U.S. do not meet the EPA’s water quality requirements. The report also recognized 35 clean or “superstar” beaches and 17 “repeat offenders” that desperately need clean water protection.
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 by the NRDC, 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.
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 percent 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:
Indiana: Jeorse Park Beach in Lake County (both monitored sections):
- California: Malibu Pier, 50 yards east of the pier, in Los Angeles County
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
- Lake Jeorse Park Beach I
- Lake Jeorse Park Beach II
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.
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).
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.