By defunding the Beach Grant Program, the Obama Administration is about to put you and your kids at risk next time you swim in the ocean.
Every year millions of American’s visit the coast for a swim in the ocean. Some of us swim or surf in the ocean hundreds of times each year.
Swimming, surfing and beach going are incredibly healthy activities as long as you wear sunscreen and you don’t get sick from polluted ocean water.
Sadly, in many areas along the coast, the ocean water is polluted from urban runoff. Last year, there were 24,091 beach closures and advisories for dirty water in the US.
Just like health safety inspections for food, we rely on water quality monitoring and reporting to ensure that the water we recreate in is safe. In 2000, when the federal BEACH Act was passed, water quality monitoring made big advancements in setting standards and funding monitoring programs to ensure your safety.
Sadly, when Obama released his budget proposal yesterday, which included a detailed document (1475 pages!) summarizing the EPA’s spending, it states that Obama would eliminate the program that provides grants to “develop and implement program to inform the public about the risk of exposure to disease-causing microorganism in the water at the nation’s beaches.”
Here is the quote from the budget:
In this difficult financial climate, the Agency will eliminate the Beaches Grant Program with a reduction of $9.9 million in FY 2013. While beach monitoring continues to be important, well-understood guidelines are in place, and state and local government programs have the technical expertise and procedures to continue beach monitoring without federal support.
Given that tourism and recreation along our coasts generated over 70 billion dollars and supported 1.7 millions of jobs in 2004 alone, an annual expenditure of 10 million dollars spread across all coastal states (you can see the state by state break down here) to protect the health of beach goers seems like a worthwhile investment.
The Surfrider Foundation has been working for decades to warn surfers and swimmers about the health risks of swimming in polluted water, and the BEACH Act of 2000 represented a major milestone in those efforts. Eliminating the Beach Grant Program puts every beachgoer's health at risk because they won’t know when or where it’s safe to surf or swim.”
The budget process is complex, highly political and bound to go through many iterations before we know how this will ultimately play out in Washington DC. As this is hot off the presses, it's unclear what the exact consequences of losing this funding the will be at the local and state level but we definitely find the President's budget proposal very alarming. Some of the possible consequences are:
- Entire states may stop all of their beach water quality monitoring (some states rely entirely on EPA grants to support their beach programs).
- Many states will likely significantly curtail their monitoring programs. Some beaches will probably not be covered anymore, and states will likely be testing less often and could drop monitoring all together during the offseason, when surfers tend to dominate ocean use.
- The standards set by the BEACH act may be ignored, and less protective standards may be used, as the only stick the EPA has to enforce the current health standards is to withhold state beach grant monies.
One thing is sure, if this program is not funded, it will be a major step back in our efforts to protect you from swimming in polluted water, and it will put all ocean users at risk.
If we don’t speak up about this, who will?
Check out ESPN coverage of this issue.