State Summary: Alaska

Ranked 29th in Beach Water Quality (out of 30 states)
24% of samples exceeded the national Beach Action Value for designated beach areas in 2013.

Summer 2014 is filled with opportunities to improve water quality throughout the United States and to better protect people's health in the process. Everyone can now support a long-awaited rule to enhance protections for small streams and wetlands—these waters can minimize polluted runoff that contributes to poor beach water quality, and can filter out contaminants that promote algae blooms.

State and federal officials have ample legal tools today to rein in stormwater pollution at the city and regional scale. And beach managers can use a new and important tool, the health-protective Beach Action Value developed by the EPA, to make swimming advisory decisions that more fully safeguard public health.

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Alaska 2013 Beach Water Quality Summary

The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act helps states and local governments develop monitoring programs to protect public health. Through these programs local officials test beach water for bacteria and issue closings or advisories when bacteria levels exceed a certain threshold. The EPA recently issued a new Beach Action Value (BAV), which is a more protective threshold than the national allowable bacteria levels used in previous years to trigger beach advisories. The EPA considers the BAV to be a "conservative, precautionary tool for making beach notification decisions." While the use of the BAV is currently optional, the EPA's proposed National Beach Guidance and Required Performance Criteria for Grants would require states receiving BEACH Act funding to use the BAV to trigger beach notifications. In light of this information, in assessing 2013 beach water quality NRDC has chosen to use the BAV in order to best protect beachgoers from water quality health risks.

Alaska has nearly 44,000 miles of coastal shoreline. Although cold water temperatures discourage swimming, recreational shoreline activities such as fishing, kayaking, and beachcombing are popular. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation administers the state's beach water quality program.

What Does Beach Water Monitoring Show?

In 2013, Alaska reported 25 coastal beaches, 7 of which were monitored. Of all reported beach monitoring samples, 24% exceeded the Beach Action Value (BAV) of 60 enterococcus bacteria colony forming units (cfu) per 100 ml marine or estuarine water in a single sample. NRDC considers all reported samples individually (without averaging) when calculating the percent exceedance rates in this analysis. This includes duplicate samples and reported samples taken outside the official beach season, if any.

The beaches with the highest percent exceedance rates of the BAV in 2013 were South Kenai Beach in Kenai Peninsula County (59%), North Kenai Beach in Kenai Peninsula County (19%), and Lena Cove Beach in Juneau (9%). According to the state, North and South Kenai fecal numbers are associated with wildlife. Microbial source tracking analysis reports birds as the bacteria source.

Alaska 2013 Monitoring Results

Total Samples
% of samples exceeding
    NOTE: Data and state-specific information for this summary were collected from the U.S. EPA, direct conversations with beach managers in the state, state grant reports to the EPA for BEACH Act funding, and the state water quality website. The information in this state summary reflects current data as of June 2, 2014.


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