Virginia has 49 public beaches stretching along 70 miles of Atlantic and Chesapeake Bay waters. The state's beachwater quality monitoring program is administered by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH).
What Does Beachwater Monitoring Show?
In 2011, Virginia reported 48 coastal beaches. Of these, 46 (96%) were assigned a monitoring frequency of once a week, and 2 (4%) were not assigned a monitoring frequency. An additional beach, Assateague Island National Seashore, is monitored once a week by the state of Maryland (this beach straddles Accomack County in Virginia and Worcester County in Maryland; the monitored location is in Virginia). Results for Assateague Island National Seashore are included in this analysis for the state of Virginia. In 2011, 4% 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 Fairview Beach in King George County (33%) and Hilton Beach (30%), Huntington Beach (25%), and Anderson's Beach (20%) in the independent city of Newport News. Beaches in King George County had the highest exceedance rate of the state standard in 2011 (33%), followed by beaches in the independent cities of Newport News (22%), Norfolk (4%), Hampton (2%), and Virginia Beach (1%). There were no exceedances in Accomack, Gloucester, Mathews, Northampton, and York 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 Virginia's Sampling Practices?
The monitoring season runs from mid-May through Labor Day, with some sites sampled through mid-September. VDH determines sampling practices, locations, standards, and notification protocols and practices throughout the state. Samples are collected in water 0.5 meters deep, 0.3 meters from the surface.
Priority for monitoring is given to sampling sites that are in close proximity to wastewater outfalls, that have high bather load, and where there is easy access to the beach. If a beach is placed under advisory or closed, the water is resampled immediately (with a duplicate sample sent for microbial source tracking analysis) and the monitoring frequency is increased until the water meets water quality standards and the beach is reopened. 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.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and VDH, including the Virginia Division of Shellfish Sanitation, work together to regularly monitor the water, including shellfish-growing areas, for the presence of harmful algal blooms and to conduct surveillance for human health effects.
How Many Beach Closings or Advisories Were Issued in 2011?
Total closing/advisory days for 28 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less decreased 15% to 69 days in 2011 from 81 days in 2010. For prior years, there were 51 days in 2009, 29 days in 2008, 50 days in 2007, 43 days in 2006, and 42 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. All closing and advisory days in 2011 were due to monitoring that revealed elevated bacteria levels.
How Does Virginia Determine When to Warn Visitors About Swimming?
The VDH has the authority to issue advisories and close beaches. Virginia's water quality standard is a single-sample maximum of 104 cfu/100 ml. No geometric mean standard is applied when making closing and advisory decisions. If more than one sampling site at a beach exists, the average of the results for all sampling sites is used to make closing and advisory decisions for that beach. If a sample (or average of samples) exceeds the standard, an advisory is issued. There is no protocol for delaying or forgoing an advisory or closing when an exceedance of the single-sample maximum standard is found.
There are no preemptive rainfall standards, but closings and advisories may be considered on the basis of events such as a harmful algal blooms, fish kills, oil spills, or sewage spills.
Virginia 2011 Monitoring Results and Notice and Advisory Days
||Assigned Monitoring Frequency
||% of samples exceeding state standards
||Closing or Advisory days