U.S. beaches last year were closed more frequently due to pollution and beach officials issued more pollution advisories than in any other year for the last 14 years, according to the latest annual beach report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC; New York). More than 18,000 days of such closings and advisories were issued at U.S. ocean and Great Lakes beaches in 2003, according to the report, Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches. This is more than 50% higher than the number of such instances that occurred in 2002, the report says. Part of the increase is due to the availability of increased funding for beach water quality monitoring provided by the federal Beaches Environmental Assessment, Closure, and Health Act of 2000. Another factor contributing to the increase is the adoption by some states of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's health standards for beach water quality, as well as an increased frequency of monitoring, according to an NRDC press statement. However, the statement notes, "one of the report's most disturbing findings is that local authorities did not know the sources of pollution causing or contributing to 68 percent of the closing and advisory days last year - the highest rate of 'unknown sources' in the 14 years NRDC has been issuing the survey." Nearly 90% of the closings and advisories were attributed to high bacteria levels, the statement says.
"We know that the high bacteria levels that cause most closings and advisories come from two sources - inadequately treated sewage and contaminated stormwater," said Nancy Stoner, director of NRDC's Clean Water Project, according to the press statement. "We have a major water system breakdown across the country, and local, state and federal authorities need to wake up and fix it." The report, which includes several policy recommendations for reducing beach pollution, is accessible online. NRDC is a nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers, and environmental specialists whose stated mission is to protect public health and the environment.