BACTERIA-caused beach closings and advisories to nearly double, report says

Wednesday, August 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Pollution closed beachs near oceans, bays, the Great Lakes and freshwater rivers nearly twice as often last year as the prior year, says a private environmental group.

The nationwide survey released Wednesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council cites 11,270 beach closings and advisories in 2000, with 85 percent due to elevated bacteria counts that exceeded federal swimmer safety standards.

The group is calling on the Bush administration to implement new federal water quality standards announced just before President Clinton left office to clean up coastal pollution, minimize sewage overflows and warn the public against swimming when problems occur.

While the high bacteria levels were mainly due to increased rain and more frequent municipal and state monitoring, the council's 11th annual report also points to a 40 percent jump in the number of beaches reporting pollution problems from an unknown source.

Two-fifths of U.S. waters are still too polluted for swimming, fishing and supporting aquatic life, the group says.

Just eight beach areas, all in Connecticut and Massachusetts, were awarded high praise for pollution control. The survey singles out two states, Louisiana and Oregon, as ``beach bums'' for a second year in a row for failing to regularly monitor their coastlines. Texas and Washington state had been in that category last year but were removed for having limited monitoring.

In the past year, 11 states _ Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina and Texas _ initiated or expanded monitoring programs. California, Massachusetts, and Florida also passed legislation requiring better beach monitoring and public notification.

More than a third of the beach closures and advisories _ including those at popular spots like San Diego, St. Croix in the Virgin Islands, Jones Beach in New York and Key West and Miami Beach in Florida _ were associated with sewage or polluted runoff, the group says. One-fifth were in connection with known pipeline breaks or sewage treatment plant failures.

The remainder of the closings and advisories were linked to unknown reasons or bacteria from sources such as boat discharges and wildlife.

The total is 83 percent more than the 6,160 closings and advisories in 1999, because of more rain in the Northeast, most Great Lake states and Guam; more beaches regularly monitored at least once a week; more communities adopting federal health standards; and a higher response rate to Environmental Protection Agency and NRDC surveys, the group says.

The number of closings and advisories has soared since data became available in 1988. That year, there were just 484 such notices.

``We're seeing a much more realistic picture of the beach water pollution problem now that more states are monitoring and reporting, but we haven't turned the corner on identifying the sources of pollution and preventing them in the first place,'' said Sarah Chasis, an NRDC senior attorney and director of the group's water and coastal program.

``It's outrageous that more than half of the time local authorities didn't know where all the pollution was coming from when they had to close a beach or post an advisory,'' she said.

The report finds many states still don't follow federal guidelines or monitor at all. A spokeswoman for the EPA, charged with enforcing those guidelines, had no immediate comment on the report.

Eight ``beach buddies'' were found to have monitoring at least once a week that based pollution levels on federal guidelines, always closed beaches when appropriate and had few closings or advisories.

They were Connecticut's East Haven Town Beach, Hammonasset Beach State Park, Old Saybrook Town Beach and Waterford Town Beach and Massachusett's Brewster Beach, Good Harbor Creek Beach, Niles Beach and Pavillion Beach.