EPA improves data on beach water quality

More than 350 beaches out of the 1,062 coastal US beaches surveyed as part of the US EPA's second annual survey of beach water quality reported a swimming advisory and/or a beach closing in 1998.

The EPA published the results of the National Health Protection Survey of Beaches in June as part of its Beach Watch Programme.

Although there are no national regulations governing beach water monitoring in the US, the EPA’s survey is seen as a way of promoting uniform standards and beach water quality improvements.

The Agency gathered information on 1,403 beaches across the US, an increase of approximately 400 beaches since last year.

State agencies reported that 935 beaches (88%) had water quality monitoring programmes. Of these beaches, 67% monitor at least once a week; 31% monitor less than once a week and 2% monitor only after rain or special events.

The survey results coincide with the Beaches Environmental Assessment, Clean-up and Health (BEACH) Bill passage through the US Congress and coming before the Senate this year.

American Oceans Campaign (AOC) welcomed the survey. “We applaud the EPA’s Beach Watch programme, but we think there’s more to be done,” said Kelli McGee, AOC’s Coastal Program Counsel. “We’re working on the passage of the BEACH Bill. When it passes the Senate we will have minimum national standards and monitoring notification criteria.”

According to McGee, the Bill may pass by the end of the year, and once it has US states will be provided with funding and time to upgrade their standards. “Currently, there are only eight states that consistently monitor and notify the public on beach quality. And not all of those eight are working to the most up-to-date standards. New Jersey is one of the best. It monitors every mile of its beaches,” said McGee.

Many states do not monitor beach water quality at all, including Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Oregon and Washington state.

At this stage, AOC and the EPA are in agreement that beach water quality monitoring needs to be improved. According to the EPA, “there is not enough information available to define the extent of beach pollution throughout the country. What we do know is that beach pollution is a persistent problem, based on the number of beach closings and swimming advisories that continue to

be issued annually”.

Until the BEACH Bill, or an equivalent, is passed, the EPA says the Beach Watch survey is its most useful tool in promoting beach water quality improvements.

A variety of beach water quality standards are in use across the US. Of the 193 agencies participating in the EPA survey, approximately 25% monitor faecal coliform, while approximately 16% also monitor E. coli.

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