U.S. Beaches Getting Dirtier, Report Finds
WASHINGTON More and more U.S. beaches are being closed due to contamination, in part because there is more pollution and in part because of better monitoring, the National Resources Defense Council said Thursday.
The group's annual clean beaches report finds that beaches were closed or the subject of a health advisory on nearly 20,000 days in 2004, up 9 percent from 2003 and the most days since tracking started 15 years ago.
"Instead of closing our beaches, let's clean up the water," said Nancy Stoner, director of NRDC's Clean Water Project.
"Authorities have gotten better at finding the problems. Now they need to stop the pollution at its source by repairing and replacing leaky sewage and septic systems, and cleaning up contaminated runoff."
Texas, Washington and Maryland had the biggest increase in the number of closing and advisory days, the NRDC found.
The report, available on the Internet at http://www.nrdc.org/water/oceans/ttw/titinx.asp, found that 85 percent of the closing and advisory days were caused by dangerously high levels of bacteria found in human or animal waste.
Sewage and storm runoffs are usually to blame.
"We need stronger enforcement for those who aren't doing their share, and we need more federal help for local communities to control runoff and update their aging sewage systems," Stoner said.
Otherwise, beach-related business could lose out, she said. The study cited a report that estimated that closing a Lake Michigan beach could cause losses of as much as $37,000 a day.
Authorities doing more to keep beaches clean include the city of Los Angeles, Scarborough State Beach in Rhode Island and Door County, Wisconsin, northeast of Green Bay, the NRDC said.
Communities that do not monitor or control pollution or warn the public when beach water is unsafe include Los Angeles County, the city of Beverly Hills, Van Buren County, Michigan and Atlantic Beach, North Carolina .
The NRDC said Congress should fully fund the 2000 Beaches Environmental Assessment, Closure and Health (BEACH) Act, which requires all coastal and Great Lakes states to adopt the Environmental Protection Agency's bacterial standards, provides grants for monitoring and notification programs, and requires the EPA to make beach water quality data easily accessible.
"Just this week, Congress cut the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, the main federal support for water infrastructure. We're going backward," Stoner said.
The NRDC urged the EPA to tighten controls on sewer overflows and stormwater discharges, ensure that states and localities monitor water quality and notify the public when it does not meet bacterial standards.
Another report published Thursday found that many beaches are disappearing.
"More than 75 percent of Florida's shoreline, 47 percent of New York's shoreline, and 26 percent of New Jersey's and Virginia's shorelines are identified as critically eroding," the group, Surfrider.org, said in its report.
Just last week, Richard Whitman of the U.S. Geological Survey's Lake Michigan Ecological Research Station and colleagues reported that sand can carry more bacteria than water at beaches. Whitman did one study in 2003 that found bacteria levels in sand on Chicago's lakefront averaged 10 times that of the water.