State Summary: Georgia

Ranked 12th in Beachwater Quality (out of 30 states)
5% 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.

  • Rated
  • Monitoring data available
  • No monitoring data available
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Georgia 2012 Beachwater Quality Summary

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

  • 124 (100%) unknown contamination sources

Georgia has 41 public beaches along 118 miles of Atlantic coast and barrier island shores. The Coastal Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources administers Georgia's beach monitoring and notification program.

What Are the Water Quality Challenges and Improvements in Georgia?

Continuing Drought

Georgia's coast continued to experience moderate to extreme drought conditions throughout 2012. Beachwater quality tends to be better during times of drought because the flow of contaminated stormwater runoff is reduced.

What Does Beachwater Monitoring Show?1

In 2012, Georgia reported 41 coastal beaches. Of these, 17 (41%) were assigned a monitoring frequency of once a week and 9 (22%) once a month; 15 (37%) were not assigned a monitoring frequency. In 2012, 5% 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 St. Andrews Picnic Area (Jekyll) (35%) and Jekyll Clam Creek (16%), both in Glynn County. Glynn County had the highest exceedance rate of the daily maximum standard in 2012 (7%), followed by Chatham (1%). No samples taken in McIntosh County exceeded the standard. 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.

Georgia Percent of Samples Exceeding the State's Daily Maximum Bacterial Standard for 27 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 Georgia's Sampling Practices?

    Most monitored beaches are sampled year-round. The Coastal Resources Division determines sampling practices, locations, standards, and notification protocols and practices throughout the state. Samples are taken in about 3 feet of water (from wave top) at a depth of 15 to 30 centimeters. Beaches that have large nearby populations, tourist accommodations, easy accessibility, and numerous amenities are monitored the most frequently.

    The monitoring frequency for a beach increases when an exceedance occurs. States that monitor more frequently after an exceedance is found will tend to have higher percent exceedance rates and fewer advisory days than they would if their sampling frequency did not increase after an exceedance was found.

    How Many Beach Closings and Advisories Were Issued in 2012?2

    Total advisory days for 18 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less decreased by 50% to 124 days in 2012 from 248 days in 2011. For prior years, there were 217 days in 2010, 209 days in 2009, and 72 days in 2008. In addition, there were 3 extended events (130 days total) and 2 permanent events (497 days) 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 Georgia Determine When to Warn Visitors About Swimming?

    Georgia's beachwater monitoring program issues advisories but not closings. The state applies the EPA standard for enterococcus of a single-sample maximum of 104 cfu/100 ml and a 30-day, five-sample geometric mean of 35 cfu/100 ml. When either the single-sample or geometric mean standard is exceeded, the Coastal Resources Division notifies the Georgia Department of Health and the local beach-management entity. Upon receiving this notification, the local entity issues an advisory. Advisory information is available on the Coastal Resources Division website. There is no protocol for forgoing an advisory when an exceedance is found, and resampling to confirm an exceedance is not done before an advisory is issued.

    The state has concluded that its beachwater quality does not appear to correlate strongly with any measured environmental parameters, including rainfall. Thus, Georgia has no preemptive rainfall advisory standards and does not make use of predictive models for issuing beach advisories. However, permanent advisories are issued for beaches that have ongoing water quality issues. For example, Kings Ferry has been under permanent advisory since 2006. The health department can issue a closing in the case of an immediate threat to public health, such as a sewage spill. Further, a volunteer network monitors phytoplankton in Georgia's estuaries, providing information necessary in the event of a harmful algal bloom.

    Georgia 2012 Monitoring Results and Closing/Advisory Days3

    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.
    3. Reported closing or advisory days are for events lasting six consecutive weeks or less. Days in parentheses are for events lasting more than six consecutive weeks.

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