New Jersey has 700 public coastal beaches lining 127 miles of Atlantic waters. Coastal water quality monitoring is conducted through the Cooperative Coastal Monitoring Program (CCMP), which is administered by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP).
Reducing Trash Wash-Up on New Jersey's Beaches
New Jersey participates in a number of efforts to improve water quality at its beaches. Sewer systems in and around New York?New Jersey Harbor are designed so that during periods of wet weather, excess flows are discharged to harbor waters. These excess flows contain floating debris made up of litter and toilet waste such as hygiene products. When discharged to the New York?New Jersey Harbor Complex, the floating debris tends to collect into slicks that can exit the harbor and wash up on beaches. The multi-agency Floatables Action Plan, which has been in place since 1989, involves several means of controlling floating debris, such as helicopter surveillance to locate slicks, skimmer vessels fitted with nets that collect debris, floating booms that trap debris near sewer-system discharge points for later collection, and sewer-system improvements intended to maximize the ability to retain floating debris. These methods have prevented tons of floating debris from reaching the harbor and New Jersey beaches. In addition, NJDEP's Clean Shores Program, in which state inmates collect floatable debris from the shorelines of the Hudson, Raritan, and Delaware estuaries and barrier island bays, removes thousands of tons of trash and debris from New Jersey shorelines each year.
Cleaning Up Beachwater Around the Wreck Pond Outfall
NJDEP is working with local stakeholders to address elevated levels of fecal indicator bacteria that are discharged to the ocean from Wreck Pond's outfall during rain events. Source tracking efforts at Wreck Pond, a tidal pond in Monmouth County, have shown that sources of pollution include stormwater runoff and failing sewage infrastructure in the community surrounding the pond. In 2006, NJDEP completed a 300-foot extension to the Wreck Pond ocean discharge outfall pipe in order to carry contaminated stormwater farther out into the ocean. This outfall extension has been effective in reducing bacteria densities at beaches near the outfall: The percentage of samples that exceeded the daily water quality standard at Brown South, York Avenue, The Terrace, and Beacon Boulevard beaches (all near the Wreck Pond outfall) has fallen from 7% in 2006 to an average of 3% over the past three years.
Extending the outfall does not eliminate the source of pollution, however. In order to reduce bacterial loading in the outfall, the towns of Spring Lake and Sea Girt intend to map their entire sanitary and storm sewer systems and use video camera technology to assess the condition of the equipment so that leaks can be identified and corrected. NJDEP has also partnered with the Freehold Soil Conservation District to prioritize stream-bank restoration areas in the pond's watershed in order to reduce the flow of stormwater during rain events, and with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to assess possible modifications to the outfall structure and to restore natural flows and tidal exchange in and around the pond.
Using Rapid Test Methods to Issue Beachwater Quality Advisories
Current approved methods for determining fecal indicator bacteria counts in beachwater depend on growth of cultures in samples and take at least 24 hours to complete. Because of this, swimmers do not know until the next day if the water they swam in was contaminated. There is a great deal of interest in technologies that can provide same-day beachwater quality results, and NJDEP has been field-testing one such method, the quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) rapid test method, since 2007. This method identifies genetic sequences in order to enumerate bacteria. In 2011, a rapid beach advisory demonstration project was conducted at four bay beaches in Ocean County (Windward Beach in Brick Township, Avon Road in Pine Beach Borough, Beachwood Beach in Beachwood Borough, and Anglesea in Ocean Gate Borough). Samples were collected on Mondays and analyzed using qPCR. Swimming advisories were issued on the basis of the qPCR results, and these results were compared with the standard membrane filtration results when they became available the following day. Preliminary review of the test results shows that the traditional culture method and the rapid test are in agreement a little more than 80% of the time.
Identifying the Source of Pollution at Beaches in Pine Beach and Beachwood
More than 25% of the water quality samples at Beachwood Beach West have exceeded the standard for designated beaches each year since the 2005 swim season, when NRDC began tracking water quality monitoring data. In 2011, students at the Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science, a magnet public high school in Ocean County, participated in a beachwater quality monitoring study. Their work indicated that bacteria levels at beaches in Pine Beach and Beachwood are impacted by rainfall. NJDEP is using the information generated by the students as it attempts to identify possible sources of contamination at Beachwood Beach West.
What Does Beachwater Monitoring Show?
In 2011, there were 700 lifeguarded recreational ocean and bay beaches in New Jersey. Currently, NRDC's report contains information on 226 monitored recreational beach sites, each of which is assigned a monitoring frequency of once a week. The remaining, unmonitored beaches are not in EPA's beach database and are not listed in this report. According to NJDEP, the lifeguarded recreational beaches that are not monitored do not have sources of pollution, such as storm drains, so the nearest monitoring station is considered representative of the water quality at these beaches.
In 2011, 3% 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 state standard in 2011 were Beachwood Beach West (Beachwood) in Ocean County (31%), Rec Center (Highlands) (28%) and L Street Beach (Belmar) (20%) in Monmouth County, and Windward Beach (Brick) (20%) and Maxon Avenue (Point Pleasant) (19%) in Ocean County. Beaches in Ocean County had the highest exceedance rate of the state standard in 2011 (5%), followed by Monmouth (4%), Atlantic (1%), and Cape May (1%) counties. 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.
* Please note that only samples from a common set of beaches monitored each year from 2007-2011 are included in the bar chart.
What Are New Jersey's Sampling Practices?
The sampling season runs from mid-May to mid-September. In addition to regular beachwater monitoring for bacteria concentrations, NJDEP conducts aerial surveillance of near-shore coastal waters six days a week during the summer and routinely inspects the 17 wastewater treatment facilities that discharge to the ocean.
NJDEP determines sampling practices, standards, and notification protocols and practices at coastal beaches throughout the state. Samples are taken 12 to 18 inches below the surface in water that is between knee and chest deep. Locations for monitoring stations are selected by local or county health departments and are chosen on the basis of proximity to a potential pollution source. If there is no pollution source nearby, ocean sampling locations are chosen to represent water quality at several nearby beaches. Every recreational bay beach is sampled.
Once an exceedance of bacterial standards is found, daily monitoring is conducted until the beachwater meets standards. States that monitor more frequently after an exceedance is found will tend to have higher percent exceedance rates and lower total closing/advisory days than they would if their sampling frequency did not increase after an exceedance was found.
How Many Beach Closings or Advisories Were Issued in 2011?
Total closing/advisory days increased 20% to 131 days in 2011 from 109 days in 2010. The increased number of closings in 2011 can be attributed to a relatively wet summer, leading to an increase in precautionary "rain provisional" closings at beaches with established rainfall thresholds. For prior years, there were 181 days in 2009, 209 days in 2008 (120 of which were caused by a criminal dumping event), 142 days in 2007, 134 days in 2006, and 79 days in 2005. There were no extended or permanent events in 2011. 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 131 1-day events, 17% (22) of closing/advisory days were due to monitoring that revealed elevated bacteria levels, 79% (103) were preemptive due to heavy rainfall, and 5% (6) were preemptive to due known sewage spills or leaks.
Only those beach closings ordered by local health officials are included here because these are the only closings that are recorded by CCMP. Data are not available for closings issued because of conditions not directly related to contamination, such as rough seas, beach maintenance projects, shark sightings, and fish and clam wash-ups. Some beaches were closed due to damage from Hurricane Irene, but these closures are not included in data available to NRDC; no beaches in New Jersey were closed due to water quality exceedances caused by Hurricane Irene.
How Does New Jersey Determine When to Warn Visitors About Swimming?
New Jersey's policy is to issue closings when bacteria levels exceed standards. New Jersey's standard for marine beachwater quality is a single-sample maximum for enterococcus of 104 cfu/100 ml. A geometric mean standard is not applied when making beach closing decisions.
In 2011, if bacteria levels exceeded the single-sample standard, the beach was resampled immediately. If the second sample exceeded the standard, the beach was closed. Resampling is conducted in conjunction with a sanitary survey of the beach. County and local health departments are allowed, at their discretion, to issue swimming advisories after one exceedance of the bathing standard. In 2011, Monmouth County was the only county to issue swimming advisories when routine monitoring revealed that standards were exceeded. In 2012, advisories will be issued at all beaches in New Jersey when bacteria levels are found to exceed the single-sample standard, and these advisories will convert to closings if resampling confirms the exceedance.
If high bacteria concentrations are found at an ocean or bay station, sampling is conducted linearly along the beach to determine the extent of the affected area. This "bracket sampling" can result in an extension of a beach closing to contiguous lifeguarded beaches.
Four Monmouth County ocean beaches around the Wreck Pond outfall (Brown South and York Avenue beaches in Spring Lake and The Terrace and Beacon Boulevard beaches in Sea Girt) are automatically closed for 24 hours after the end of all rainfall events that exceed 0.1 inch or cause an increased flow in storm drains, and for 48 hours from the end of all rainfalls greater than 2.8 inches within a 24-hour period. Lifeguards prohibit swimming near any parts of these beaches where the stormwater plume is observed to be mixing with water within the swimming area. Two bay beaches in Monmouth County also have preemptive rainfall standards: L Street Bay Beach in Belmar (more than 0.1 inch in 24 hours) and the Shark River Beach and Yacht Club (more than 1 inch in 24 hours).
Beaches in New Jersey are closed if there is a known sewage spill that is suspected of contaminating beachwater. Health and enforcement agencies in New Jersey can close a beach to protect public health at any time.
Algae samples are collected when remote sensing data indicate an increase in chlorophyll levels in a specific area. If a harmful algal bloom is identified, county and local health officials are notified, closing information is posted on the DEP web page and phone line, and local beach managers close beaches as necessary. There were increased reports of jellyfish on New Jersey beaches in 2011, especially in Barnegat Bay.
New Jersey 2011 Monitoring Results and Notice and Advisory
||Assigned Monitoring Frequency
||% of samples exceeding state standards
||Closing or Advisory days