State Summary: Maine

Ranked 27th in Beachwater Quality (out of 30 states)
11% 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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Maine 2012 Beachwater Quality Summary

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

  • 194 (100%) unknown contamination sources

There are more than 30 miles of public-access beaches stretching along Maine's Atlantic waters, including bays, sounds, and estuaries. The coastal beachwater quality monitoring program, Maine Healthy Beaches (MHB), is managed by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and coordinated by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

What Are the Water Quality Challenges and Improvements in Maine?

The Maine Healthy Beaches program provided extensive support in 2012 to areas that have experienced chronic bacterial pollution, including intensified monitoring and the building of a collaborative process of local, state, and federal partners to share resources and solve problems.

Improved Monitoring and Public Outreach in Camden

In 2012, the town of Camden received funding from the Maine Coastal Program to enhance its monitoring program, to expand Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination Studies in the harbor watershed, and to follow through on key recommendations from prior studies. The increased monitoring led to the discovery of an illicit sewer cross-connection to a storm drain that empties to the Megunticook River. It was repaired within one week of discovery.

Additionally, to reduce the impact of untreated boat waste on harbor water quality, Camden mailed hundreds of "Pump It, Don't Dump It!" flyers to permitted slip and mooring holders explaining how to properly dispose of sewage. The town's free boat pump-out service increased the number of gallons pumped and the number of pump-outs in 2012 from the previous year. The town plans to continue educating boaters and expanding public outreach efforts to include best practices for managing pet waste, septic system maintenance, and storm drain stenciling in the Camden Harbor Watershed.

Water Quality Improvements at Goodies Beach

To improve historically impaired water quality, MHB supported routine beach monitoring as well as source-tracking studies at Goodies Beach in Rockport Harbor and in the storm drainage network. In 2012, Rockport Codes Enforcement surveyed 54 residences in the direct drainage basin of Goodies Beach. The town plans to explore the feasibility of extending the stormwater pipe draining to Goodies Beach offshore. Extending the outfall does not eliminate the source of pollution, however. Additionally, Rockport will integrate "Pump It, Don't Dump It!" information into the promotion of a new boat pump-out facility in 2013.

What Does Beachwater Monitoring Show?1

In 2012, Maine reported 71 coastal beaches, of which 3 (4%) were assigned a monitoring frequency of more than once a week, 53 (75%) once a week, 2 (3%) every other week, and 1 (1%) once a month; 12 (17%) were classified as "Tier 3" and not assigned a monitoring frequency. Tier 3 beaches do not currently meet the criteria for program participation such as having a management entity, public use and access, adequate facilities, etc. In 2012, 11% 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 Goodies Beach in Knox County (44%), Riverside (Ogunquit) in York County (26%), Laite Beach in Knox County (26%), Short Sands Beach in York County (25%), Ferry Beach (Scarborough) in Cumberland County (24%), Crescent Beach (Kittery) in York County (24%), Hulls Cove in Hancock County (21%), and Crescent Beach (Wells) in York County (21%). Knox County had the highest exceedance rate of the daily maximum standard in 2012 (30%), followed by Waldo (17%), Lincoln (13%), Hancock (12%), York (10%), Cumberland (9%), and Sagadahoc (3%). 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.

Maine Percent of Samples Exceeding the State's Daily Maximum Bacterial Standard for 51 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 Maine's Sampling Practices?

    The monitoring season in Maine lasts approximately three months, from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Monitoring is extended to include spring wet-weather monitoring and special studies for targeted areas.

    The Maine Healthy Beaches program is voluntary, and in order to participate, a beach must have a management entity that can meet the program's protocols and conditions. Beaches that do not meet the criteria for program participation are assigned to Tier 3 and are not monitored. Monitoring coastal water quality for swimming and other water-contact usage is the responsibility of local jurisdictions, municipalities, or state parks and is not mandated by state law. Samples are taken in 2 to 3 feet of water.

    Monitoring sites at each beach are selected according to where people swim as well as the location of freshwater inputs to the beach and other high-risk features, including sewage treatment plant outfalls and wildlife areas. Once a beach is placed under advisory or closed, MHB recommends that the monitoring frequency increase until standards are met and the beach can be reopened. However, some localities don't have the ability to conduct increased monitoring, and the beaches in these towns cannot be reopened until the next routine sample is analyzed.

    For areas experiencing chronic bacterial pollution, additional monitoring sites are added throughout the watershed and/or wet-weather monitoring is conducted to help determine the source(s) of pollution.

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

    Total closing/advisory days for 86 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less increased 73% to 194 days in 2012 from 112 days in 2011. For prior years, there were 207 days in 2010, 250 days in 2009, 170 days in 2008, 176 days in 2007, 134 days in 2006, and 92 days in 2005. In addition, 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. For the 86 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less, 92% (178) of closing/advisory days were due to monitoring that revealed elevated bacteria levels, and 8% (16) were preemptive due to heavy rainfall.

    During the 2012 monitoring season, 21.96 inches of rain fell, substantially more than in the 2011 and 2010 seasons (which received 13.45 inches and 10.48 inches, respectively). Four beach management areas—Goodies, Goose Rocks, East End, and Riverside-Ogunquit—accounted for 36% of the reported beach action days in 2012. MHB believes that runoff pollution contributes to bacteria loads at these locations through factors such as storm drains that empty directly onto beaches, a high percentage of impervious ground cover, and the close proximity of urbanized areas. In addition to record rainfall, the increase in closing/advisory days in 2012 was also likely linked to precautionary rainfall advisories that were triggered by more than 1 inch of rainfall within 24 hours. In some cases, beach managers kept the advisory in place until the next scheduld monitoring day indicated enterococci levels below the state standard.

    How Does Maine Determine When to Warn Visitors About Swimming?

    Both closings and advisories can be issued in Maine, but closings are rare and occur only when beaches experience chronic high bacteria levels or known threats to safety or public health, and in municipalities where closing ordinances are in place. The Maine Healthy Beaches website provides beach status and data.

    When determining whether to recommend a beach advisory, MHB applies a single-sample standard for enterococcus of 104 mpn/100 ml. A geometric mean standard is considered but not strictly applied when determining whether a beachwater sample exceeds bacterial standards. Results of all monitoring samples are transmitted to the MHB database, and automatic email alerts are issued to beach managers, local officials, and other entities as soon as an exceedance is found.

    Advisories are not issued solely on the basis of monitoring results. The decision to post a beach is made by the local beach manager (in partnership with MHB staff) using a risk management matrix incorporating factors including bacteria levels, environmental conditions, risk of pollution, and history of high bacteria levels. Depending on the conditions, MHB will recommend an advisory when the standards are exceeded, and the decision to post an advisory for a beach is the responsibility of the town or state park. In areas with historically good water quality and a low risk of pollution, an advisory may not be posted until resample results are available, while in areas with historically poor water quality and a high risk of pollution, beaches will be posted following an exeedance. Beaches are resampled following an exceedance. MHB staff follow up after each exceedance to ensure that state protocols were followed correctly and in a timely manner.

    The program recommends that precautionary rainfall advisories be posted at beaches with a history of elevated bacteria levels and stormwater issues. There are a few communities in Maine that, depending on conditions, may post an advisory after a specified amount of rainfall. Local officials are notified when there is a known sewage spill.

    Maine 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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