More tests, more closed shores
Extensive shoreline water testing resulted in 20,000 days of beach closings in 2004.
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"Monitoring beaches and finding the problems - as important as that is as a first step - is not the same as tackling or ending those problems," says Daniel Hinerfeld, of the NRDC. His organization's 15th annual report on beach health spotlights current federal rollbacks of programs that help clean US beach water.Skip to next paragraph
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The NRDC's recently released report says more support from the Bush administration is needed: "The administration has declined to protect any wetlands and headwaters that filter beach water sources, proposed to lessen requirements for sewage treatment, allowed contaminated storm water from new development ... slashed federal funding for clean-water programs and held up rules that would reduce overflows of raw sewage."
"Now we're at the stage where we have to tell the country, 'Let's gather together to stop those sources of pollution,' rather than just make people aware of them," says Mr. Hinerfeld.
The EPA, for its part, says that $42 million annually in grants to 35 coastal and Great Lakes states over the past five years have made US beaches "more enjoyable for Americans" - in the words of their recent report - by doing more than just issuing closure notices. In North Beach, Maryland; Warren Town Beach, Rhode Island; and Cuyahoga County, Ohio, grant money helped pinpoint sewage or storm-water discharges leading to the movement or repair of the sewer lines and storm outflows.
"At the same time we realize that much more needs to be done, we can't overlook that progress has been made and positive things are happening," says Dale Kemery of the EPA. The current push, he says, is to improve and standardize data-collection and make results available in hours rather than days. New requirements are in place for all states who receive EPA money for more vigorous reporting of problems, he says.
But environmental groups are still sounding the alarm.
"The EPA should be embarrassed that this country doesn't have the standardized beach monitoring requirements and water-quality standards nationally that they have been talking about for 25 years," says Mark Gold, executive director of Heal the Bay, an environmental group in Santa Monica.
Challenges remain at all levels, say Mr. Gold and others. While voluntary measures emphasize what must be done, mandatory measures put immediate pressure on local governments to act, straining already spoken-for revenues.
Yet some states are making clean beaches a priority. Even in the midst of its own budget crisis, the State of California has allocated more than $80 million for cleaning up the state's most polluted beaches.
"The rest of the country is about where California was five years ago on this issue," says Bruce Reznik, executive director of San Diego Baykeeper. California, one of the first states to monitor its beaches, created statewide water-quality standards and "right to know" pollution warnings, which in turn led to grass-roots activism and millions in state and local funding. Last fall, the City of Los Angeles granted $500 million to tackle urban runoff.
"Cities were monitoring more and going into shock over what pollution had been ignored for years if not decades," says Mr. Reznik. "Now we have spent hundreds of millions for new sewers and storm outflow controls and things are dramatically better than they were five years ago."