Testing the Waters at Ohio Beaches

My husband’s family is from the Cleveland area, so coming to Northeast Ohio always feels like a homecoming for me.  And, because I think of it as my (second) home, I’m excited to be in Cleveland, at the Great Lakes Science Center, to release “Testing the Waters,” our annual survey of water quality and public notification at U.S. beaches.  

My colleague Jon Devine summarizes the report’s overall findings

Unfortunately, the news for Great Lakes beaches isn't good -- 11% of beachwater samples taken in the region violated national recommended health standards in 2011.  This should not be a surprise – the Lakes are suffering from an ugly mix of invasive species, climate change and failing infrastructure.  And here, its even worse, with Ohio ranked 29th out of 30 states in terms of beachwater quality, with a whopping 22% of samples exceeded national standards. It is worth noting that this is only counting Lake Erie beaches, but the same problems are impacting inland lakes too.

Two Ohio beaches – Euclid State Park Beach & Villa Angela State Park, both in Cuyahoga County -- earned “repeat offender” status. Over the last five years, these two beaches stand out as having persistent contamination problems, with water samples violating public health standards more than 25 percent of the time for each year from 2007 to 2011.  13 other beaches across the country earned the same rating (two of which are near my “first” home in Chicagoland). 

The fact that our beaches have long suffered from pollution isn’t new.

What is new is that we now know what to do about it -- making our communities literally greener on land.

And that's one of the reasons I'm in Ohio today -- to recognize the investment in smarter greener infrastructure -- think porous pavement, green roofs, parks, roadside plantings and rain gardens – being made by the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD).  Over the next 7 years, NEORSD will invest $42 million in green infrastructure designed to reduce sewage overflows by 44 million gallons.  That investment will result in more than cleaner beaches --  it will make Cleveland's neighborhoods more beautiful, cool and cleanse the air, reduce asthma and heat-related illnesses, and help residents save on heating and cooling energy costs.  Last year, NRDC released Rooftops to Rivers II, which documents how 20 cities -- including Cleveland -- are effectively using these techniques.

These greener practices on land also help protect the local economies that rely on beachgoers and related tourism activities.  it’s estimated that more than 1.5 million jobs are directly connected to the Great Lakes, including more than 217,600 from tourism related businesses alone. 

That's why it's also critical that EPA strengthen its proposed standards for recreational waters -- which currently make it acceptable for 1 in 28 swimmers to become ill with gastrointestinal sicknesses such as diarrhea, nausea and vomiting while swimming at U.S. beaches.  My colleague Steve Fleischli goes into greater detail here.

EPA has another opportunity to address the causes of beach pollution, especially stormwater runoff.  EPA can learn from cities like Cleveland and expand the use of green infrastructure acros the country by reforming the national requirements that govern sources of polluted stormwater.  EPA will propose those rules in the coming year.

Whatever part of the country you consider your home (or second home), you can use a nifty new feature on our website to find a clean beach close to you.