State Summary: Alabama

Ranked 18th in Beachwater Quality (out of 30 states)
8% 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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Alabama 2012 Beachwater Quality Summary

Reported Sources of Beachwater Contamination
(number of closing/advisory days)

  • 21 (100%) unknown contamination sources

Alabama has 97 coastal beaches stretching along 50 miles of the Gulf of Mexico coast and 70 miles of bay and island shoreline. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) administers the state's beachwater quality monitoring program.

What Are the Water Quality Challenges and Improvements in Alabama?

BP Oil Disaster Continued to Affect Alabama's Beaches in 2012

Alabama's beaches were impacted by the BP oil disaster that began on April 20, 2010, with the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig. Oil flowed from the damaged well for nearly three months, until it was capped on July 15, 2010. Although all oil spill advisories in Alabama were lifted by the end of July 2010, shoreline contamination assessment teams continued to conduct cleanup activities on a daily basis, and warning signs were posted at all of Alabama's Gulf Coast beaches throughout 2011 and into 2012 because of the occasional presence of tar mats and tar balls from the spill. To the naked eye, many beaches may appear to be free of tar balls on any given day. However, storms cause sand to move and the beach can turn over quickly, exposing tar balls that have been buried under clean sand.

What Does Beachwater Monitoring Show?1

In 2012, Alabama reported 97 coastal beaches. Of these, 8 (8%) were assigned a monitoring frequency of more than once a week, 12 (12%) once a week, and 5 (5%) every other week; 72 (74%) were not assigned a monitoring frequency. In 2012, 8% of all reported beach monitoring samples exceeded the state's daily maximum bacterial standard of 104 colonies/100 ml. The beaches with the highest percent exceedance rates of the daily maximum standard in 2012 were Volanta Avenue (18%) and Spanish Cove (18%) in Baldwin County; Dog River, Alba Club in Mobile County (17%); and Kee Avenue (16%) and Mary Ann Nelson Beach in Baldwin County (15%).

Mobile County had the highest exceedance rate of the daily maximum standard in 2012 (10%), followed by Baldwin (7%). 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.

Alabama Percent of Samples Exceeding the State's Daily Maximum Bacterial Standard for 25 Beaches Reported 2008-2012*

    * Please note that only samples from a common set of beaches monitored each year from 2008-2012 are included in the bar chart.

    What Are Alabama's Sampling Practices?

    Monitoring is conducted throughout the year, with more frequent monitoring from May to September.

    ADEM, along with the Alabama Department of Public Health and U.S. EPA, determines sampling practices, locations, standards, and notification protocols and practices throughout the state. Samples are collected 6 to 12 inches below the surface, usually in knee-deep water. Whether a beach is monitored and how frequently it is monitored are determined using a quantitative ranking scheme that weighs the amount of use, the potential for contamination from nearby sources, and other important factors such as high use by the elderly or the very young.

    Once an exceedance is reported, samples are collected daily until the standard is met.2 States that monitor more frequently after an exceedance is found will tend to have higher percent exceedance rates and lower total advisory days than they would if their sampling schedule did not increase after an exceedance was found.

    How Many Beach Closings and Advisories Were Issued in 2012?3

    Total advisory days for 15 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less decreased 16% to 21 days in 2012 from 25 days in 2011. In prior years, there were 195 days in 2010 (including beach advisories due to the Gulf oil spill), 34 in 2009, and 14 days in 2008. There were no extended or permanent events in 2012. Extended events are those in effect more than six weeks but not more than 13 consecutive weeks; permanent events are in effect for more than 13 consecutive weeks. All advisory days in 2012 were due to monitoring that revealed elevated bacteria levels.

    How Does Alabama Determine When to Warn Visitors About Swimming?

    Alabama does not issue beach closings; the state's policy is to issue advisories only. Advisories are posted on the ADEM website, and signage at the beach.

    An enterococcus single-sample maximum of 104 cfu/100ml is the standard used to issue beach advisories in Alabama. No geometric mean standard is applied when making advisory decisions.

    Beaches are given green status when sampling results meet the standard. When sample results exceed the standard, the status changes to yellow; this indicates that there may be an increased risk of illness associated with swimming in such water, and that the beach is being immediately retested. When a sample exceeds the standard, there are no overriding factors that can be taken into account before converting to yellow status. If a resample, taken the next day, also exceeds the standard, a public health advisory (red status) is issued. A red status indicates that repeated tests show bacteria level exceed the standard and swimming in the water may increase the risk of illness.

    There are no standards that mandate preemptive advisories in response to rainfall or sewage spills, but full-scale advisories for all sites have been issued by the county and state health departments after hurricanes and during the 2010 BP oil disaster.

    Alabama 2012 Monitoring Results and Closing/Advisory Days

    County
    Beach
    Tier
    Assigned Monitoring Frequency
    Total Samples
    % of samples exceeding
    state standards
    Closing or Advisory days
    View
      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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