Beach closures in U.S. hit 2nd highest level in two decades; Gulf spill, heavy rains are big factors
In California, closures and advisories nearly doubled in 2010, and the number of beach water tests that exceeded state health standards rose to 11% from 9% the year before, according to an annual report released Wednesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The study indicates “the problems that we have in this country with beach water contamination in general are not getting better,” said Noah Garrison, an attorney for the environmental group.
But it doesn’t mean pollution is getting worse.
In fact, the report found water quality at beaches across the country “remained largely steady.” What changed was the number of closures tied to last year’s gulf oil spill and heavy rainfall in California and Hawaii.
Because storm runoff is a top source of beach water pollution, closures mirror precipitation patterns. When it rains, viruses, bacteria, fertilizers, toxic metals, trash and other pollutants are swept into the ocean and warnings to stay out of the water are often posted as a precaution. When the weather is dry, beaches tend to be cleaner.
Local governments should be working to stop urban runoff so that water quality doesn’t just wax and wane with the rainfall, the environmental group said.
“Hoping that it isn't going to rain is not a viable storm water management strategy,” Garrison said.