State Summary: Alaska

Ranked 5th in Beachwater Quality (out of 30 states)
4% of samples exceeded national standards for designated beach areas in 2012

Protecting swimmers from bacteria, viruses, and other contaminants in beachwater requires leadership. Federal officials must help clean up polluted stormwater runoff—the most commonly identified cause of beach closings and swimming advisories—by developing national rules that require pollution sources to prevent stormwater where it starts by retaining it on-site.

The Environmental Protection Agency must also set beachwater quality standards protective of human health and provide states with the support they need to monitor beach pollution and notify the public when pollution levels are high.

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  • Monitoring data available
  • No monitoring data available
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Alaska 2012 Beachwater Quality Summary

Alaska has nearly 44,000 miles of coastal shoreline, 14,000 miles of which are actively managed. Although cold water temperatures discourage swimming, recreational shoreline activities such as fishing, kayaking, and beachcombing are quite popular. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) administers the state's beachwater quality program and has identified more than 200 recreational beaches. In 2003, Alaska conducted a survey of municipalities across the state and designated 203 marine locations as recreational beaches. Of these 203 recreational beaches, 46 are considered to be at higher risk for water quality concerns. In 2012, the DEC selected a subset of 26 beaches to monitor. These beaches were chosen according to whether DEC had ongoing concerns about the location, because monitoring had not previously occurred, or because there was particular interest by a community in conducting beach water quality monitoring.

What Does Beachwater Monitoring Show?

In 2012, Alaska reported 26 coastal beaches, 9 (35%) of which were assigned a monitoring frequency of once a week, and 17 (65%) of which were not assigned a monitoring frequency. In 2012, 2% of all reported beach monitoring samples exceeded either the state's daily maximum enterococcus standard of 276 colonies/100 ml, the state's daily maximum fecal coliform standard of 200 cfu/100 ml, or both. The only monitored beaches with exceedances in 2012 were South Kenai Beach (11%) and North Kenai Beach (6%), both on the Kenai Peninsula. NRDC considers all reported samples individually (without averaging) when calculating the percent exceedance rates in this analysis. This includes duplicate samples and samples taken outside the official beach season, if any.

There were no beaches monitored every year between 2008 and 2012, so a year-to-year comparison of percent exeedance rates is not possible.

What Are Alaska's Sampling Practices?1

The Alaska DEC looks for several different indicator bacteria: enterococcus, total coliform, and E. coli or fecal coliform. Sampling practices are uniform throughout the state. Samples are collected 12 inches below the surface in water that is 3 feet deep. Alaska has identified 14 recreational beaches in six communities that were of concern due to potential sources of bacterial contamination. These high-priority beaches are the focus of Alaska's beach monitoring program. Eleven of the 14 high-priority beaches in four of the six communities participated in the beach monitoring program in 2012.

Cities that choose to participate in the monitoring program are encouraged to sample during the summer season. In 2012, beaches in Haines (Lutak Inlet and Portage Cove) were monitored between May 1 and August 29. Beaches in Homer (Anchor Beach, Bishop's Beach, and Whisky Gulch) were monitored weekly between April 25 and June 24. Beaches in Juneau (Auke Recreation Area, Lena Cove Beach, and Ann Coleman Beach) were monitored from May 25 to August 20. Beaches in Kenai (North Kenai Beach, South Kenai Beach, and Warren Ames Bridge) were sampled from June 25 to August 12.

How Many Beach Advisories Were issued in 2012?

No beach advisories were issued in 2012.

How Does Alaska Determine When to Warn Visitors About Swimming?

Alaska's program recommends advisories, not closings, based on water quality results. Water quality criteria for the monitoring program include criteria for fecal coliform, E. coli and enterococcus. For fecal coliform results, the geometric mean of a 30-Day period is used. To be compliant with state guidance, five samples may not exceed a geometric mean of 100 cfu /100 ml, and no more than one sample, or 10% of samples if there are more than 10 samples, may exceed 200 cfu fecal coliform/100 ml. The enterococcus single-sample maximum is 276 cfu/100 ml, and there is also an enterococcus geometric mean standard for five samples collected within 30 days of 35 cfu/100 ml. The enterococcus standards match the EPA criteria for full-body-contact recreation in lightly used marine waters. Alaska does not have an E. coli standard, but field-based analysis methods for quantifying E. coli can be used as a stand-in for analysis methods for quantifying fecal coliform in remote locations. In such cases, the fecal coliform standard would be applied to E. coli results.

If a sample exceeds standards, re-sampling within 96 hours of the original sampling event is completed to be sure that the elevated levels of bacteria are still present. If the levels are still high, there is a list of protocols for issuing a beach water-quality advisory and press release. Additionally, signs and fact sheets are placed at key public access locations. Signage stays posted until a sample below water quality standards is received.

While the state encourages participating municipalities to issue an advisory when a re-sampling event confirms that water quality does not meet state standards, the authority for issuing advisories is delegated to the local governments that choose to participate in the program, and these local governments do not always issue advisories when follow-up sampling confirms exceedances. For example, elevated levels of fecal indicator bacteria were found in consecutive samples in July 2010 at North Kenai Beach and in July 2011 at South Kenai Beach, but no advisories were issued.

Alaska 2012 Monitoring Results and Closing/Advisory Days

Assigned Monitoring Frequency
Total Samples
% of samples exceeding
state standards
Closing or Advisory days
    NOTE: Data and state-specific information for this summary were collected from U.S. EPA, direct conversations with beach managers in the state, state grant reports to U.S. EPA for BEACH Act funding, and the state water quality website. The information in this state summary reflects current data as of June 7, 2013.
  1. If the 2012 percent exceedance values in this summary don't match, why not? The value at the top of the page reflects the proportion of samples exceeding the national single-sample maximum standard for designated beach areas. The values in the "What Does Beach Monitoring Show?" section reflect the proportion of samples exceeding the state standard, which in some states is more or less stringent than the national designated beach standard. Additionally, only samples from a common set of beaches monitored each year from 2008-2012 are included in the bar chart. Because some beaches were not monitored in each of those years, the percent exceedance for this subset of beaches may not have the same value as the percent exceedance for all of the beaches monitored in 2012.
  2. Year-to-year changes in closing/advisory days should not necessarily be interpreted as an indication of the level of bacterial contamination. In some states and localities, the number of beaches and/or beach monitoring frequency may not be consistent from one year to the next, and beaches may be closed or under a swimming advisory for reasons other than known or suspected bacterial contamination. Other reasons include, but are not limited to, chemical/oil spills, medical waste washing up on shore, dangerous currents, lack of lifeguards, etc. In addition, because NRDC's totals of closing/advisory events focus on those events lasting six consecutive weeks or less, those tallies do not account for longer-duration closings or advisories. For trends in water quality, please refer to NRDC's year-to-year comparison of percent exceedance rates of state water quality standards.


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