The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has just released their annual Testing the Waters report. Every year, NRDC presents all of the beach monitoring and closure data that each coastal state submits to the EPA Beach program. The 2010 report includes data from the previous year, 2009, and highlights the importance of green infrastructure as a natural solution to managing and preventing storm water runoff.
July 28, 2010
Pollution continues to contaminate the water at America's beaches, causing 2,352 closing and advisory days in Hawaii last year and 18,682 nationwide. Meanwhile, as of July 27, the oil disaster had already led to 2,239 days of beach closing, advisories, and notices in the Gulf region this year, according to the 20th annual beachwater quality report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
"Due to state budget cuts this year, the Department of Health's Clean Water Branch lost 4 of its 5 water quality monitors on Oahu this year," says Stuart Coleman, Surfrider's Hawaii Coordinator. "This is a big liability for Hawaii because we are so dependent on tourism, and we need to make sure our waters are monitored and protected from waterborne diseases. Pollution from sewage spills, injection wells and stormwater runoff can cause all kinds of illnesses. For instance, Maui has some of the highest rates of staph infection and MRSA in the country."
The good news is that Surfrider chapters across Hawaii host monthly beach cleanups and work with the Clean Water Branch to do water quality testing across the state. "But there is still a lot of work to do to educate people and policy makers about ways to keep our oceans clean and conserve water, while reducing sewage spills and stormwater runoff," Coleman continues. For more information, check out Surfrider's website www.KnowYourH2O.org and their free online video called "Cycle of Insanity: The Real Story of Water," as well as their new www.Beachapedia.org website.
In its 20th year, NRDC's annual report - Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches - analyzes government data on beachwater testing results from 2009 at more than 3,000 beaches nationwide, and provides a 5-star rating chart for 200 of the nation's most popular beaches. The report confirms that last year, our nation's beachwater continued to suffer from serious contamination - including human and animal waste - and a concerted effort to control future pollution is required.
"From stomach-turning pathogens to dangerous oil slicks - America's beaches continue to suffer from pollution that can make people sick, harm marine life and destroy coastal economies," said NRDC Water Program Director David Beckman. "And as the disaster of unprecedented scale continues in the Gulf, we must clean up the mess, stop it from happening again, and make sure the communities bearing the brunt are not forgotten."
This year the report also includes a special section dedicated to oil-related beach closures, advisories, and notices in the Gulf region this summer. For the full report, go to www.nrdc.org/beaches.
HAWAII & NATIONAL FINDINGS
NRDC's report issued 5-star ratings for 200 of the most popular U.S. beaches, based on indicators of beachwater quality, monitoring frequency, and public notification of contamination. Beaches at Oahu's Hanauma Bay and Royal Hawaiian-Moana and Maui's Wailea Beach Park received a 4-star rating (out of 5). But beaches at Oahu's Kuliouou and Ke'ehi Lagoon and Kauai's Hanalei Beach Park rated only 2 stars.
This year's report found that 7 percent of beachwater samples nationwide in 2009 violated health standards, showing no improvement from the previous two years. In Hawaii, the percentage of health standard exceedances increased to 4% percent in 2009 from 2% percent in 2008. Hawaii ranks 5th in the nation for its beachwater quality testing.
Under the federal BEACH Act, states regularly test their beachwater for bacteria found in human and animal waste. These bacteria indicate the presence of pathogens. When beach managers determine that water contamination exceeds health standards - or in some cases when a state suspects levels would exceed standards, such as after heavy rain - they notify the public through beach closures or advisories. While the report found an overall 8 percent decrease in closing and advisory days at beaches nationwide from 2008, the change does not necessarily signal permanent improvement in beachwater quality. Rather, the overall decrease likely reflects decreased funding for water contamination monitoring in Southern California, as well as dry conditions in Hawaii and the four U.S. territories. In fact, many regions of the country actually saw sharp increases - including most of the East Coast and the entire Gulf Coast.
In Hawaii, Testing the Waters shows that the number of closing and advisory days decreased from 2008 to 2009. Most of the closing and advisory days were caused by stormwater runoff; so Hawaii saw a decrease in closing and advisory days because of a decrease in the amount of rain.
In 2009, stormwater runoff was the primary known source of pollution at beaches nationwide, consistent with past years. The report indicates polluted runoff continues to be a serious problem that has not been addressed. By using a wealth of available, smart water solutions on land - collectively called "green infrastructure" - we can naturally control and treat stormwater pollution, as well as prevent sewage overflows, to keep waste from reaching the beach. Green infrastructure refers to a variety of practices - such as green roofs, permeable pavement, roadside plantings and rain barrels - that stop rainwater where it falls and either store it for later use or allow it to soak back into the ground.
"Relying on dry weather to keep our beachwater clean is not a long-term public health protection strategy - when the rains return, so will the pollution," said Beckman. "Green infrastructure techniques on land can make a real difference in the water - and they're often the cheapest and most effective way to improve beachwater quality. From green roofs to permeable pavement and roadside plantings, there's a whole host of ways to not only prevent runoff pollution and sewage overflows from the start - but to beautify neighborhoods, boost economies and support American jobs at the same time."
Beachwater pollution nationwide causes a range of waterborne illnesses in swimmers including stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, ear, nose and throat problems, dysentery, hepatitis, respiratory ailments, neurological disorders and other serious health problems. In fact, Maui has the highest rates of staph infection and MRSA in the country. For senior citizens, small children and people with weak immune systems, the results can be fatal. The incidence of infections has been steadily growing over the past several decades, and with coastal populations growing we can expect this upward trend to continue until the pollution sources are addressed.
"Sewage and runoff pollution in our beachwater is preventable," said Jon Devine, senior NRDC water attorney. "With investment in cost-effective, smarter water practices that are available today, communities can tackle the most common sources of pollution lurking in the waves."
OIL SPILL IMPACT ON GULF BEACHES:
As oil washes ashore, closures, advisories, and notices have been issued at many Gulf beaches - nearly 10 times as many closing and advisory days as were issued at these beaches for any reason by this time last year. So far this year, there have been a total of 2,239 beach closing, advisories, and notices in the Gulf region as a result of the oil disaster. Analysis of only those Gulf beaches that are regularly tested for water quality reveals a total of 1,972 days of closings, advisories, and notices related to the oil spill, compared to 237 closing and advisory days at those beaches this time last year for any reason.
Although Hawaii was not affected by the oil spill in the Gulf, our state is still 90% dependent on imported oil and vulnerable to spills like the Exxon Valdez incident. "In fact, in 1977, an oil tanker named the Hawaiian Patriot reported a crack in her hull, and approximately 18,000 tons of oil leaked into the sea 300 miles away from Hawaii, before the ship blew up and sank," Coleman says.
NRDC is maintaining a frequently updated map of current oil spill beach closures, advisories, and notices, which can be accessed here: http://www.nrdc.org/energy/gulfspill/beaches.asp.
The oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has caused tremendous damage not only to the environment and communities of the region, but also their economies. This includes the lucrative tourism and recreation industries in Gulf states, which generated a combined $26.5 billion in 2004 alone. Likewise, if a spill were to happen off of Hawaii, tourism and our economy would be devastated.
A disaster like this should never happen again. Measures should be taken to help mitigate the damage from this spill and avoid future spills, including permanently stopping the leak, suspending all new offshore drilling activity until we find out what happened, and moving to clean energy sources that can't spill or run out. Additionally, BP must be forced pay for the cleanup and costs in full - including fully compensating coastal communities for the damage to their economies.
TESTING THE WATERS, 20th EDITION - A LOOK BACK:
Since NRDC released its first Testing the Waters report, there have been significant improvements in beachwater testing and reporting. Due in large part to NRDC advocacy, nearly 3,000 coastal beaches, representing beaches in all 30 coastal states, are now monitoring at least weekly, if not more.
Twenty years ago, water quality monitoring records were not necessarily kept, even for states that conducted monitoring. Today, detailed information about beachwater quality is in most cases available online. States are also now applying more consistent water quality standards to beach closure and advisory decisions, and they are tying beach status more clearly to bacteria levels - a shift that provides better protection of public health.
There are several things the government and citizens can do to create healthier summers at the beach:
* Boosting green infrastructure in coastal communities can prevent stormwater runoff and sewage overflows from the start. These solutions not only clean up waterways, they literally green communities, cool and cleanse the air, reduce asthma and heat-related illnesses, save on heating and cooling energy costs, and generate landscaping and construction jobs. A bill recently introduced in Congress, the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act (H.R. 4202/S. 3561), aims to make green infrastructure and low impact development techniques a national priority.
* Simple steps in your everyday life can also make a difference in reducing beachwater pollution. This includes conserving water, redirecting drainage pipes toward gardens or vegetation, maintaining septic systems, and properly disposing of animal waste, litter, toxic household products, and used motor oil.
* Better testing and identification of contamination sources can help protect public health and address the causes. The Clean Coastal Environment and Public Health Act (H.R. 2093/S. 878), pending in Congress would enable better identification of pollution sources - which are often not investigated and therefore unknown - so they can be addressed. The bill would also require EPA to adopt faster testing methods to enable officials to issue prompter closings and advisories in the event of contamination. This would allow people to find out if it's safe to swim before they get in, not after - as is often the case today with slower testing methods.
* By cutting global warming pollution we can help avoid greater beachwater pollution in the future. The U.S. House of Representatives has already approved, and we now look to the Senate to pass, climate and clean energy legislation that would do just that, as well as help us transition to clean energy, and create millions of jobs at the same time. Since global warming is expected to increase pathogens in the water and stormwater runoff - as a result of increased floods and storms - passing legislation to minimize these impacts can help avoid beach pollution.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
* For the full report, go to: http://www.nrdc.org/beaches.
* For a regularly updated map of Gulf beach closures due to oil, go to: http://www.nrdc.org/energy/gulfspill/beaches.asp.
* For tips for a safe trip to the beach this summer, go to: http://www.nrdc.org/water/oceans/gttw.asp.
* For info about ways to get involved, go to: http://www.surfrider.org/ or www.surfrider.org/oahu.
* For Broadcast-quality footage of solutions for cleaner beachwater, go here: http://vimeo.com/album/262783.*
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has 1.3 million members and online activists, served from offices in New York, Washington, Chicago, Livingston, MT, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Beijing.
The Surfrider Foundation is an environmental non-profit organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world's oceans, waves and beaches through conservation, activism, research and education (CARE). Founded in 1984, the Surfrider Foundation has over 50,000 members and more than 80 chapters across the country. Surfrider has four chapters in Hawaii (Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Kona) that hold monthly beach cleanups and meetings. Our members work to preserve clean water and beach access and promote responsible shoreline development and a reduction of single-use plastics and marine debris. For more info, go to www.surfrider.org/oahu.