Texas has 169 public beaches. Out of approximately 2,500 miles of coastal, bay, and estuarine shoreline in Texas, 336 miles are subject to the BEACH Act. The Texas General Land Office (GLO) administers the Texas Beach Watch Program.
Federal scientists indicate that Texas had its driest year on record in 2011. The statewide average rainfall for the year was 14.88 inches, drier than the previous low of 14.99 inches, set in 1917. During the past century, Texas averaged 27.92 inches of rain per year. Beachwater quality tends to improve when conditions are dry because less rain results in less pollution reaching the ocean in stormwater runoff.
Source Identification Projects Under Way in Texas
In October 2010, the Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi began conducting a multiyear bacteria sampling project along Corpus Christi Bay at Cole Park, Emerald Beach, McGee Beach, Poenisch Park, and Ropes Park. Researchers are identifying potential sources of bacteria at these beaches and documenting conditions. As part of the project, samples are being collected in various beach locations, including beach sands and water, over two to three years during both dry and wet weather. The goals of the project are to determine the best management strategies for protecting these resources and to support the public's enjoyment of recreating in these waters by improving water quality. Throughout the project, the city of Corpus Christi, the Nueces River Authority, the Coastal Bend Bays Foundation, the Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program, and other stakeholders and communities that use and impact these public beaches are being engaged in developing strategies to improve water quality.
In another project, which began late last year, Texas A&M–Corpus Christi is developing a tool that will make it easier to conduct useful sanitary surveys at beaches in Texas. These surveys are conducted in order to reveal sources of beachwater contamination. Students will be trained to conduct sanitary surveys at each of the 52 Coastal Bend beaches in Nueces, Aransas, and San Patricio counties that are monitored through the Texas Beach Watch Program. The sanitary surveys will include measurements at the beaches, photographs of all features, and observations of any potential sources of contamination as well as additional watershed characteristics (such as land use). After the Coastal Bend beaches are surveyed, the sanitary survey tool will be reviewed and any necessary modifications will be made.
What Does Beachwater Monitoring Show?
In 2011, Texas reported 169 coastal beaches. Of these, 66 (39%) were assigned a monitoring frequency of once a week and 103 (61%) were not assigned a monitoring frequency. In 2011, 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 in 2011 were Poenisch Park in Nueces County (34%), Palacios Pavilion in Matagorda County (30%), and Cole Park (22%), Ropes Park (22%), and JFK Causeway–SW (20%) in Nueces County.
Beaches in Matagorda County had the highest exceedance rate of the state standard in 2011 (11%), followed by Kleberg (9%), Harris (9%), Nueces (9%), Aransas (8%), Galveston (3%), Brazoria (2%), and Cameron (1%) counties. There were no exceedances in Jefferson and San Patricio 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.
What Are Texas's Sampling Practices?
Beaches are monitored year-round, with weekly monitoring from May to September for all monitored beaches and during the month of March at some beaches to coincide with spring break.
The GLO determines sampling practices and locations and recommends that local government and health departments issue beach advisories when the bacterial standard is exceeded. Samples are generally collected about 1 foot below the surface in knee-deep water (2 feet deep) in an area where people are engaging in recreational activity. If the majority of recreational activity occurs at a depth significantly different from 2 feet, samples can be collected at the location of greatest swimmer activity. In addition, if the 2-foot sampling depth is more than 50 meters from shore, samples can be collected at the location of greatest swimmer activity. Recreational beach segments used most frequently by the public and where health risks are the greatest are given priority for monitoring.
Texas relies primarily on federal BEACH ACT funding for its beachwater monitoring and notification program, but federal funds are periodically insufficient for meeting the goals of the program, and these funds are supplemented with funding from the state. Because of funding shortfalls over a period of years, monitoring of beaches in Kleberg County (all four of which were either Tier 2 or Tier 3) was discontinued beginning in September 2011.
If a sample exceeds standards, monitoring is conducted daily until standards are met. 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 schedule did not increase after an exceedance was found.
Were Beach Closings or Advisories Issued in 2011?
* Please note that only samples from a common set of beaches monitored each year from 2007-2011 are included in the bar chart.
Total closing/advisory days for 327 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less decreased by 45%, to 385 days in 2011 from 704 days in 2010. For prior years, there were 231 days in 2009, 318 days in 2008, 532 days in 2007, 473 days in 2006, and 420 days in 2005. In addition, 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 327 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less, all closing/advisory days in 2011 were due to monitoring that revealed elevated bacteria levels.
How Does Texas Determine When to Warn Visitors About Swimming?
There are three levels of advisories in Texas. The lowest level occurs when enterococcus densities are below 35 cfu/100 ml. A medium-level advisory occurs when enterococcus densities are between 35 cfu/100 ml and 104 cfu/100 ml, and a high-level advisory is issued, with swimming not recommended, when the enterococcus density is greater than 104 cfu/100 ml. The public is notified of all advisory levels on the Internet, but signs are posted on the beach only for high-level advisories. Only high-level advisory days are reported to EPA and included in this summary. Beginning in 2011, one sample per station was collected at each sampling event (prior to 2011, two samples were collected per sampling event and the results were averaged before comparing with the standard). No geometric mean standard for five samples taken over a 30-day period is applied.
Texas does not have preemptive rainfall standards. In the case of a known sewage spill, the decision to issue a preemptive closing or advisory would be made by local government.
Texas 2011 Monitoring Results and Notice and Advisory Days
||Assigned Monitoring Frequency
||% of samples exceeding state standards
||Closing or Advisory days