State Summary: Texas

Ranked 21st in Beachwater Quality (out of 30 states)
9% 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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Texas 2012 Beachwater Quality Summary

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

  • 384 (86%) unknown contamination sources
  • 58 (13%) stormwater runoff
  • 3 (1%) wildlife

Texas has 169 public beaches. Out of approximately 2,500 miles of coastal, bay, and estuarine shoreline in Texas, 336 miles are covered by the monitoring and notification program under the BEACH Act. The Texas General Land Office (GLO) administers the Texas Beach Watch Program.

What Are the Water Quality Challenges and Improvements in Texas?

New Sanitary Survey Program for Texas Beaches

The Texas Coastal Management Program is currently funding a project to create a standard sanitary survey program to characterize and categorize Aransas and Nueces County beaches, and to assess potential sources of pollution and predict water quality on the basis of existing data. The surveys will allow coastal managers to make better-informed decisions regarding water quality, modeling, beach categorization, and remediation plans to reduce potential health risks to the public. The project will develop a standard sanitary survey tool for Texas beaches that will be available for all of the coastal counties.

What Does Beachwater Monitoring Show?1

In 2012, Texas reported 169 coastal beaches. Of these, 62 (37%) were assigned a monitoring frequency of once a week, and 107 (63%) were not assigned a monitoring frequency. In 2012, 9% 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 in 2012 were Palacios-Palacios Pavilion in Matagorda County (33%); Cole Park (32%), Poenisch Park (32%), and Ropes Park (31%) in Nueces County; Sargent Beach in Matagorda County (29%); Quintana in Brazoria County (26%); University Beach in Nueces County (25%); Jetty Park in Matagorda County (24%); Bryan Beach in Brazoria County (23%); and Laguna Shores in Nueces County (21%). Matagorda County had the highest exceedance rate of the daily maximum standard in 2012 (28%), followed by Brazoria (14%), Harris (13%), Nueces (11%), Jefferson (9%), Aransas (8%), San Patricio (8%), Galveston (5%), and Cameron (1%). 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.

Texas Percent of Samples Exceeding the State's Daily Maximum Bacterial Standard for 59 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 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 water that is knee-deep (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, or 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.

    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.

    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 are supplemented with funding from the state.

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

    Total closing/advisory days for 363 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less increased 53% to 445 days in 2012 from 291 days in 2011. In prior years, there were 704 days in 2010, 231 days in 2009, and 318 days in 2008. 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 363 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less, 99% (442) of closing/advisory days were due to monitoring that revealed elevated bacteria levels, less than 1% (1) were preemptive due to heavy rainfall, and less than 1% (2) were preemptive to due known sewage spills or leaks.

    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 through an interactive map of beaches and through email subscriptions on the Texas Beach Watch website. Signs are posted at the beach (in English and Spanish) only for high-level advisories. Only high-level advisory days are reported to the EPA and included in this summary.

    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 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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