From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published November 27, 2012 09:36 AM

US EPA Updates Recreational Water Quality Criteria

Yesterday, the EPA recommended new recreational water quality criteria that will help protect peoples' health during visits to beaches and other waters. The last time the EPA issued recommendations for recreational waters was in 1986 so updating these criteria are crucial in the continued protection of the public who partake in water-related activities like swimming, boating, and beach combing to name a few.


The new science-based criteria provide information to help states improve public health protection by addressing a broader range of illness symptoms like stomach ailments, better accounting for pollution after heavy rainfall, providing more protective recommendations for coastal waters, encouraging early alerts to beachgoers, and promoting rapid water testing.

While the new criteria do not impose any new requirements, they do provide tools that states and tribes can use to set their own standards. The criteria provide states and communities with the most up to date science and information that they can use to determine whether water quality is safe for the public and when to issue an advisory or a beach closure.

The criteria are based on the magnitude, duration, and frequency of two bacterial indicators of fecal contamination: Enterococci and E. coli. The presence of these bacteria can indicate the possible presence of pathogenic bacteria and viruses that are difficult and time-consuming to test for, so that is why water is usually tested for coliforms and fecal streptococci instead.

EPA also decreased the monitoring samples time period from a 90 day to a 30 day-average. This produces a more accurate picture of the water quality for that given time, allowing for a faster notification time about the water quality to the public. This shortened time period accounts for heavy rainfall that can wash pollution into rivers, lakes or the ocean or cause sewer overflows.

The strengthened recommendations include:

- A short-term and long-term measure of bacteria levels that are to be used together to ensure that water quality is properly evaluated.
- Stronger recommendations for coastal water quality so public health is protected similarly in both coastal and fresh waters.
- A new rapid testing method that states can use to determine if water quality is safe within hours of water samples being taken.
- An early-alert approach for states to use to quickly issue swimming advisories for the public.
- Tools that allow states to predict water quality problems and identify sources of pollution, as well as to develop criteria for specific beaches.

Find out more about the Recreational Water Quality Criteria at the US EPA.

Children walking on beach image via Shutterstock. 

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