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Governor Donald L. Carcieri accepted a $213,140 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that will assist Rhode Island’s efforts to improve and expand water quality monitoring and public notification programs at state coastal beaches.
EPA’s New England office announced the funding for Rhode Island’s Coastal Beach Program, a four-year-old effort to improve monitoring and overall water quality at 10 state coastal beaches. More than 2700 water samples were collected and analyzed by the Rhode Island Department of Health last summer alone.
“Rhode Island Department of Health runs a model beach program, helping to ensure that both coastal and freshwater beaches are among the best monitored in the country,” said Ira Leighton, deputy regional administrator of EPA’s New England regional office. “Widespread monitoring of our beaches not only brings important public health information to New Englanders but also helps us find the source of any potential contamination.”
The progress made by Rhode Island in their efforts to monitor water quality at beaches is significant. In 1994, 165 samples to monitor water quality were collected at 16 freshwater and 28 saltwater beaches. Between 2001 and 2002, with support from the Federal Beach Act, the number of saltwater beaches monitored increased from 28 to 67, and an additional 800 samples were collected. In 2004, a total 2700 samples were collected at a total of 118 fresh and saltwater beaches.
In his remarks, Governor Donald L. Carcieri said “This EPA grant will enable us to build on our achievements in improving water quality at our beaches. We are seeing success in reducing beach closure days throughout our state. In fact, beach closures have been reduced from 454, two years ago to 122, last year. As leaders of the Ocean State we must continue to protect the well being of residents, tourists and visitors who swim at our beautiful beaches.”
Across New England last year, about one quarter of the region's 1,000 coastal beaches were closed at least one day last summer due to pollution, for a total of about 1,000 missed beach days. That's a tangible improvement from 2001, when the region's saltwater beaches had nearly 1,400 beach closure days.
The EPA funding was made available through EPA's Clean New England Beaches Initiative, which is making nearly $1.2 million available this summer to the region's five coastal states. EPA has awarded Rhode Island nearly $912,000 since 2002 to support and expand the state's beach monitoring programs.
Launched four summers ago, EPA's New England Beaches Initiative selected 11 flagship beaches across New England. These beaches were chosen as models for other beach managers and are based on several criteria: serving large populations; a history of beach closures due to pollution; high quality monitoring already in place; and a strong potential for state and federal resources to be used.
Polluted runoff and untreated sewage released into the water can contain bacteria, viruses, and protozoans, some of which can cause minor illnesses such as gastroenteritis or more serious diseases such as hepatitis. Runoff can be contaminated from pet waste, wildlife, illicit connections and various other sources. Sources of sewage include leaking sewer pipes, failing septic systems, boats and combined sewer overflows.