In 2010, closures and pollution advisories at U.S. beaches soared to its second-highest level in 21 years, according to the results of an annual water quality survey conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
According to the report, Testing the Waters 2011 , which utilizes water quality and public notification data at coastal U.S. areas, beach closings and advisories were issued for 24,091 days in total, a 29 percent increase from 2009. More than two-thirds of those were issued because bacteria levels exceeded applicable standards.
But where is all this bacteria coming from?
The report states that beaches are often closed because monitoring services detect the presence of bacteria that indicate the presence of pathogens — microscopic organisms from human and animal wastes that pose a threat to human health. The key known contributors of these contaminants are stormwater runoff, untreated or partially treated discharges from sewage treatment systems, discharges from sanitary sewers and septic systems, and wildlife.
For the second year in a row, the report also highlights closures, advisories, and notices issued at beaches impacted by last summer’s BP oil disaster. From the beginning of the spill until June 15, 2011 there have been a total of 9,474 days of oil-related beach notices, advisories and closures at Gulf Coast beaches due to the spill
While most of the advisories, closures and notices that were issued last year due to the oil spill were lifted by the end of the year, cleanup crews are still at work, states the report. And the spill is still interfering with trips to the beach as oil continues to wash ashore at Gulf Coast beaches in Alabama, Louisiana, Florida and Mississippi.
As of June 15, 2011, four beach segments in Louisiana that have been closed since the spill have yet to open, and three beaches in Florida have remained under oil spill notice.
In 2011, NRDC rated 200 popular beaches based on the cleanliness of the water and their monitoring and public notification practices. How clean is your beach? Check the ratings here.
Since pesticide, agricultural and industrial waste, and municipal wastewater run-off are some of the biggest factors contributing to poor water quality in the U.S., the NRDC suggests that enhanced regulation to prevent this pollution is the best way to keep more beaches open.
The NRDC supports a bill that Congress has considered in prior years, called the Clean Coastal Environment and Public Health Act, which would reauthorize and increase the federal grants made available to states under the BEACH Act.
Specifically, the bill would allow funding to be used for identifying sources of beachwater contamination (and might even provide support for remedying pollution sources); it would require the EPA to approve rapid test methods for monitoring beachwater pollution and ensure that states will use them, and it would improve coordination between the public health officials who monitor beachwater and the environmental agencies that regulate the sources of beachwater pollution.
The NRDC says that EPA’s reform of its regulations will be a major opportunity to advance communities’ use of green infrastructure. In addition, leaders in Congress have introduced bills to promote green infrastructure, require stormwater retention by highway development projects and fund community infrastructure improvements.
People can also help prevent beach pollution by taking simple steps, such as picking up pet waste, maintaining septic systems, putting swim diapers with plastic covers on babies and keeping trash off the beach.
Image Credit: Flickr – wheany