EPA Clean New England Beaches Initiative - It's a Shore Thing
Coastal beaches are among the most treasured natural resources in New England, but beach closures or advisories ("beach actions") caused by high bacteria levels often prevent the public from enjoying these resources. Since 2001, with funding from the Federal Beach Act, the number of coastal beaches monitored by the U.S. Environmental protection Agency (EPA) New England Regional Office has doubled from about 400 to an estimated 800. EPA staff believe that the public health at beaches is now better protected.
Although increased assessment and monitoring encouraged many communities to remediate sources of bacteria, over one hundred beaches were posted 10 or more times from 2004 to 2006. In response, EPA refined its Clean New England Beaches initiative in 2007 to focus attention on communities with chronic contamination at their beaches. Many of these communities are urban areas with old infrastructure and stormwater drainage systems that use small, channelized coastal streams and discharge to or near local beaches. As a result, stormwater runoff and illicit connections are a major cause of elevated bacteria levels making it difficult to distinguish between human and non-human (e.g., waterfowl) sources of bacteria.
Reducing pollutants from nonpoint sources is challenging and requires constant vigilance and assistance from all levels of government. The EPA has integrated its beach work within its stormwater permit and compliance programs. One of its successes has been to ensure that priority beach communities are given strong consideration in Clean Water Act nonpoint source program funding. Additionally, EPA has met with seven communities as well as state and environmental officials to draft voluntary "Beach Action Plans" that outline some steps necessary to improve water quality and reduce beach actions. The plans set priorities and define roles, responsibilities, and commitments of each community and government agency. Some communities have already demonstrated success by applying for and receiving grants as well as tracking down illicit connections in their stormwater systems.
EPA hopes this approach will make protecting the health of beach goers a "sure thing!"
For more information:
EPA Beach Monitoring and Notifications
Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches
NOAA's Oceans and Human Health Initiative