NRDC Annual Beach Report: Water Pollution Ruins Over 20,000 Days at the Beach for Third Straight Year

Report Reveals 13 “Superstar Beaches” and 11 “Repeat Offenders”

WASHINGTON (June 26, 2013) –America’s beaches experienced over 20,000 closing and advisory days for the third consecutive year because of polluted water or threatened contamination, according to the 23rd annual beachwater quality report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Over 80 percent of the closings and advisories were issued because testing revealed bacteria levels in the water violated public health standards, confirming that serious water pollution persists at many U.S. shores. The primary known cause of this pollution is massive stormwater runoff and sewage.

“Sewage and contaminated runoff in the water can spoil a family vacation real fast, turning a day of lounging at the beach into a day at the doctor’s office with a sick child,” said NRDC senior attorney Jon Devine. “It’s no surprise that pollution in the waves is bad for business in beach communities. Our government leaders can help support local economies and salvage countless summer getaways nationwide by tackling one of the principal sources of these problems—stormwater runoff.”

In its 23rd year, NRDC’s annual report card on America’s beaches – Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches – collects and analyzes the latest beachwater testing data results from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state beach coordinators at more than 3,000 beach testing locations nationwide. The report examines the causes of water pollution that plague America’s beaches and presents crucial opportunities to keep pollution out of our beaches, lakes and rivers.

The report provides a 5-star rating guide to 200 of the nation’s popular beaches, evaluating them for water quality and best practices for testing and public notification. This year, the report awards 13 beaches with a 5-star “Superstar” rating, as well as highlights 11 “Repeat Offenders,” which repeatedly exhibit chronically high bacteria counts.

NRDC’s report also includes an updated, mobile-friendly zip code searchable map of more than 3,000 beaches nationwide, making it easier than ever for users to check important water quality, monitoring, closing and swimming advisory information at their local beaches. Find it here:

This year, Testing the Waters highlights two critical actions that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can take to protect people at the beach. First, because polluted runoff is the biggest known source of beachwater pollution, EPA should reform and rigorously enforce the national requirements that govern sources of polluted stormwater to ensure that runoff is controlled using innovative green infrastructure solutions. Second, EPA should reconsider its new recreational beachwater quality criteria, which leave beachgoers inadequately protected and unnecessarily exposed to bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can make them sick.


For several years, NRDC has issued star ratings to each of the 200 popular beaches around the country. There were 13 beaches last year that received the 5-star rating:

  • Alabama: Gulf Shores Public Beach in Baldwin County
  • Alabama: Gulf State Park Pavilion in Baldwin County
  • California: Bolsa Chica Beach in Orange County
  • California: Newport Beach in Orange County (2 of 3 monitored sections)
    • Newport Beach - 38th Street
    • Newport Beach - 52nd/53rd Street
  • California: San Clemente State Beach in Orange County (2 of 2 monitored sections)
    • San Clemente State Beach - Avenida Calafia
    • San Clemente State Beach - Las Palmeras
  • Delaware: Dewey Beach - Dagsworthy in Sussex County
  • Delaware: Rehoboth Beach in Sussex County
  • Maryland: Ocean City at Beach 6 in Worcester County
  • Michigan: Bay City State Recreation Area in Bay County                 
  • Minnesota: Park Point Franklin Park / 13th Street South Beach Park Point in St. Louis County
  • Minnesota: Lafayette Community Club Beach in St. Louis County
  • New Hampshire: Hampton Beach State Park in Rockingham County
  • New Hampshire: Wallis Sands Beach in Rockingham County

The star system awards up to five stars to each select popular beach for exceptionally low violation rates and strong testing and safety practices. The criteria include: routinely testing more than once a week, not waiting to resample the water before notifying the public when tests reveal bacteria levels violating health standards, and posting closings and advisories both online and at the beach.


Over the last five years of this report, sections of 11 U.S. beaches have stood out as having persistent contamination problems, with water samples violating public health standards more than 25 percent of the time for each year from 2008 to 2012:

  • California: Avalon Beach in Los Angeles County (4 of 5 monitored sections):
    • Avalon Beach 100 feet west of the Green Pleasure Pier
    • Avalon Beach 50 feet east of the Green Pleasure Pier 
    • Avalon Beach 50 feet west of the Green Pleasure Pier
    • Avalon Beach East of the Casino Arch at the steps
  • California: Doheny State Beach in Orange County (6 of 7 monitored sections):
    • Doheny State Beach, 1000' South Outfall 
    • Doheny State Beach, 2000' South Outfall
    • Doheny State Beach, 3000' South Outfall
    • Doheny State Beach, North Beach
    • Doheny State Beach, North of San Juan Creek 
    • Doheny State Beach, Surfzone at Outfall
  • California: Poche County Beach in Orange County
  • Indiana: Jeorse Park Beach in Lake County (2 of 2 monitored sections):
    • Lake Jeorse Park Beach I 
    • Lake Jeorse Park Beach II
  • New Jersey: Beachwood Beach in Ocean County
  • New York: Ontario Beach in Monroe County
  • Ohio: Lakeshore Park in Ashtabula County
  • Ohio: Euclid State Park in Cuyahoga County
  • Ohio: Villa Angela State Park in Cuyahoga County
  • Ohio: Edson Creek in Erie County
  • Wisconsin: South Shore Beach in Milwaukee County

It is important to note that some of these beaches have multiple sections that are tested for water quality, and in some instances only certain sections of a beach qualified for the repeat offender list. 


America’s beaches issued a total of 20,120 closing and advisory days nationwide. While the latest results demonstrate a 14 percent reduction in closing and advisory days from 2011, this is due, in part, to a 2012 beach season with substantially less rainfall. More than 80 percent of the closings and advisories in 2012 were issued because testing revealed indicator bacteria levels in the water violated public health standards, potentially indicating the presence of human or animal waste. Stormwater runoff was identified as the largest known source of this pollution; it caused or contributed to 28 percent of closing and advisory days.

This year’s report found that water quality at America’s beaches remained largely unchanged, with 7 percent of beachwater samples nationwide violating public health standards in 2012, compared to 8 percent in 2011 and 2010 and 7 percent each year from 2006-2009.

The Great Lakes region had the highest violation rate of beachwater standards -- 10 percent of samples in 2012. The Delmarva region had the lowest rate -- 3 percent of samples violated standards. In between were the Gulf Coast (8 percent), Western states (7 percent), New York-New Jersey coast (6 percent), New England (5 percent) and the Southeast (4 percent).

Individual states with the highest violation rates of reported samples in 2012 were Ohio (21 percent), Wisconsin (14 percent), and Minnesota (12 percent). Those with the lowest rates of contamination last year were Delaware (less than 1 percent), New Hampshire (1 percent), and North Carolina (2 percent)

Under the federal Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act, states regularly test their beachwater for bacteria found in human and animal waste. These bacteria often indicate the presence of pathogens. When beach managers determine that water contamination violated health standards – or in some cases when a state suspects levels would violate standards, such as after heavy rain – they notify the public through beach closures or advisories.


Every year, more than 10 trillion gallons of untreated stormwater, including hundreds of billions of gallons of untreated sewage overflows, make their way into America’s waterways each year, according to the EPA.  This contaminated discharge is the largest known source of beachwater pollution.

The best way to keep this pollution out of America’s beachwater is to prevent it from the start by investing in smarter, greener infrastructure on land, like porous pavement, green roofs, parks, roadside plantings and rain barrels. Green infrastructure addresses stormwater pollution by stopping rain where it falls, preventing the rain from carrying runoff from dirty streets to our beaches, and instead enabling it to evaporate or filter into the ground naturally.

Common-sense green infrastructure solutions keep stormwater from becoming wastewater and prevent sewage systems from overflowing., These techniques turn rainwater from a huge pollution liability into a plentiful, local water supply resource and they also beautify neighborhoods, cool and cleanse the air, reduce asthma and heat-related illnesses, save on heating and cooling energy costs, boost economies and support American jobs.

Already, scores of cities nationwide are reaping the benefits of green infrastructure solutions. Now, our federal government should ensure that communities across the nation have the support to do the same. For the first time in many years, EPA is reexamining its nationwide requirements pertaining to sources of polluted runoff.  These improvements will enable our cities to meet clean water goals more cost-effectively and will promote the use of green infrastructure techniques. EPA has a significant opportunity to clean up pollution at America’s beaches by incentivizing the robust deployment of green infrastructure nationwide.


Beachwater pollution nationwide causes a range of waterborne illnesses in swimmers including stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, ear, nose and throat problems, dysentery, hepatitis, respiratory ailments, neurological disorders and other serious health problems. For senior citizens, small children and people with weak immune systems, the results can even be fatal.

EPA is responsible for ensuring that recreational waters are safe for people. One element of this responsibility is establishing and implementing federal standards (called “criteria”) that adequately protect the public from contaminants in beachwater. Unfortunately, the agency’s new allowable bacterial levels in recreational waters are, in part, even less protective than the 25-year-old standards they replaced.

Most egregiously, EPA’s criteria fail to protect against exposure to pathogens on any given day. The prior criteria triggered a violation after a single sample, but EPA now allows water quality to exceed the criteria up to 10 percent of the time without triggering a violation. This approach could mask a serious pollution problem and expose families to an unnecessary risk of illness. In addition, EPA has determined it is acceptable for 1 in 28 swimmers to become ill with gastrointestinal sicknesses such as diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, when swimming in recreational waters. This risk is unacceptably high and is not protective of public health. Additionally, EPA does not adequately consider other health effects such as rashes and ear, eye, and sinus infections, all of which are commonly experienced by swimmers at U.S. beaches.

To address these flaws, EPA must revise the level of acceptable risk so that it is protective of public health. A coalition of groups concerned about water quality, including NRDC, just last week filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue EPA seeking to compel EPA to take action to protect beachgoers on any given day and to adopt criteria that adequately protect public health from all types of illnesses.

“Americans don’t expect bacteria, raw sewage and dangerous pollution in the water when they go swimming at the beach, but too often the agency responsible for protecting us is falling down on the job,” said Steve Fleischli, Director of the Water Program at NRDC. “To keep us healthy at the beach, EPA must raise the bar for what it considers safe to swim. This means improving the nation’s weakened water quality standards to make them more protective of our health.”



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