Tell Congress to fund beach water quality monitoring.

by on March 22, 2012 · 3 comments

in California, Economy, Environment, Health, Ocean Beach, San Diego

By Christopher Dotson

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced cuts to all federal funding for beach water quality monitoring in 2013, putting over 90 million Americans at risk along with our fragile coastal economy.

When the federal Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act of 2000 was passed, water quality monitoring made big advancements in setting standards, providing funding for much needed monitoring programs to ensure safety of local beachgoers and tourists, alike.

More than a health risk, revenue from tourism is at stake for OBceans. We risk our physical health and the health of our fragile economy, among other honest concerns. Do OBceans and retailers really want to risk the “bad rap” of, say, a 1990s Imperial Beach?

Clearly defined actions to protect beachgoers are taken only after water testing results have proven definitive. That is, only after monitoring shows high enough bacteria levels will the state or local governments issue a beach advisory or beach closure notice. When so much is at stake, such governmental actions are a good thing. Subsequent advisories or closures remain in effect until further samples show the water quality has returned to within acceptable standards or limits.

Used to detect bacteria levels, water quality monitoring along our beaches and coastlines is the primary method available for preventing harmful health effects of disease-causing microbes. Such pathogens are often the result of sewage or fecal pollution.

After speaking with one person responsible for collecting samples, he confirmed that whenever borderline levels are detected, notices and closures may not occur until after multiple samples have been collected and subsequent testing has found conclusive evidence. While this single claim remains uncorroborated at this time, unless a sewage overflow has been reported for a specific area, such actions may take up to three additional days to post signs and alert the public.

Make no mistake, even with regular water monitoring systems in place children from North County down to Imperial Beach may be swimming in water contaminated with pathogens. Any chance for making more positive determinations will be wholly absent after the current federal budget fails to restore funding of the BEACH Act.

If anything, testing should be increased.

Surfers of the OB Jetty Already Know This!

For those who surf the OB Jetty with any regularity, they already know the risks. It’s become an insider’s joke and an assumed risk, but those risks are spreading beyond the San Diego river mouth due to planned cuts to water testing and funding. The same ailments infecting our more devoted jetty surfers may now be felt by an unsuspecting public.

Like a “canary in a coal mine”, OB Jetty surfers complain of a range of symptoms which are the well known results of bacteria, including diseases of the gastrointestinal and upper respiratory tracts, as well as eyes, ears, and skin.

Excessive bacteria levels often occur after heavy rainfall. OBceans know too well not to enter the water until “enough” time has lapsed. Four tides? Six? Eight? Even the old school rule-of-thumb has been altered to reflect concerns of modern surfers, and some have extended the “rule” over the years to reflect what’s happening in the water. But there’s more out there than stormwater runoff.

It’s all changing

Treatment plant malfunctions, sewer system overflows, and pet and wildlife waste on or near the beach all contribute to the problems. And this is merely the conventional list of concerns. Recent warming trends must be considered before long-term cancellation of water testing and monitoring.

It seems like a really bad time to stop testing water quality along our coastlines. With summer and flowers and green parrots arriving ever-earlier each year, it seems obvious warming trends will result with increases in bacteria living in our oceans and thriving along our coastline.

Only in recent years have experts begun recognizing the influence of atmospheric and oceanic cycles in influencing climate.

One report cites:

“Evidence is presented that the recent worldwide land warming has occurred largely in response to a worldwide warming of the oceans rather than as a direct response to increasing greenhouse gases (GHGs) over land. Atmospheric model simulations of the last half-century with prescribed observed ocean temperature changes, but without prescribed GHG changes, account for most of the land warming. …”

To help minimize beachgoers’ risk of exposure to pathogens in beachwaters, EPA was funded to help communities build and properly operate sewage treatment plants, working to reduce overflows, and working with the U.S. Coast Guard to reduce discharges from boats and larger ships.

Under the BEACH Act of 2000, EPA provides annual grants to coastal and Great Lakes states, and territories. Among others, EPA’s mission was to help local authorities monitor their coastal and Great Lakes beaches and notify the public of water quality conditions that may be unsafe for swimming.

Prior to their recent announcements and cuts, the EPA funded more than $100 million in BEACH grants to help protect beachgoers. Again, EPA has already announced cuts to all federal funding for beach water quality monitoring in 2013.

With so many issues arising, it’s just bad timing.

Just like food safety inspections, local San Diegans and businesses, as well as tourists rely on water quality monitoring and reporting to ensure that the water is safe from bacteria for our families and children to swim.

With more than 24,000 beach closures and advisories enforced last year alone, today is the time to voice our collective concerns. Not next week, but today.

Take action

You and I should expect enjoyable and worry-free beach days. Ask Congress to fully restore funding for beach water testing.

Today, please join other grassroots organizations and individuals by taking action to restore funding for monitoring water quality. Please contact your Senators directly and ask them to join in sending a letter of support to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies to fund the BEACH Act.

It’s actually a simple task to make a few timely phone calls requesting our representatives restore funding, as per the BEACH Act. Urge your Senators to support New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg in asking the Senate Appropriations Committee to restore funding for water quality monitoring.

This link will display a list to identify your elected officials.


Southern California Coastal Water Research Project

Water – EPA – Beaches.

Water – EPA – Laws – Beach Rules .

Info on Global Warming


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Brenda McFarlane March 26, 2012 at 9:33 pm

Bravo Chris! Thanks fior the thorough article. If testing our beaches isn’t a fundamental necessity of our public services, I don’t know what is. We can’t drink alcohol on the beach because we might act all crazy and frighten the children but it is okay-dokey to let the little ones play in our shit. What is wrong with our priorities here?


christopher dotson March 26, 2012 at 10:02 pm

Well said! And all BS aside, it is abour exposing the truth of our priorities vs. the rhetoric. Without monitoring, we are blind to the true damage and will simply await for the “bad rap” to find us.


Christopher Dotson March 28, 2012 at 10:49 am

UPDATE: Nonviolent, direct action is working. Thanks to your calls, tweets, and emails and the hard work of our partners at Heal the Bay, Clean Ocean Action, NRDC , Surfers Environmental Alliance and the Waterkeeper Alliance, we were able to get 18 Senators to join New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg to request that the federal funding for water quality monitoring be restored. More specifically, they sent a letter to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies requesting that they restore the funding for EPA’s Beach Act grant program.

This is a great first step towards restoring this important funding and maintaining tough national standards on recreational water quality monitoring at our beaches.


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