There were nearly twice as many beach closings and advisories last year than there were in 1999, compelling evidence that the nation''s beaches have a major water pollution problem, an environmental group said Wednesday.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released its 11th annual report, "Testing the Water: A Guide to Beach Water Quality at Vacation Beaches."
According to the report there were 11,270 closings and advisories in 2000 compared to 6,160 beach closings and advisories in 1999.
NRDC said that although some states experienced heavy rainfall, prompting more closings and advisories, most of the increase in closings and advisories followed increased monitoring, better testing standards for bacteria and other pathogens, and more complete reporting.
"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 organization''s water and coastal program. "It''s outrageous that more than half of the time local authorities don''t know where the pollution was coming from when they had to close a beach or post an advisory."
Last year, several states increased the number of beaches they monitor. Alabama, Mississippi, California, Texas, Massachusetts, South Carolina and Florida all reported monitoring more sites. Meanwhile, Guam -- a U.S. territory that had not reported on its beach water quality since 1997 -- reported 1,691 closings and advisories.
NRDC also found that the number of state agencies that have adopted at least one of EPA''s recommended health standards for swimmer safety increased from 51 in 1999 to 77 in 2000.
But better standards and more frequent monitoring have revealed that beach pollution is more extensive than previous believed, said NRDC.
Elevated bacteria counts that exceeded swimmer safety standards accounted for 85 percent of the monitored beaches'' closings and advisories. NRDC predicts that high bacteria counts will prove to be a growing problem as more states adopt the stricter EPA testing standards.
While more states are monitoring their beaches, there is still no uniform, regular monitoring across the nation, leaving some beach goers ignorant about water quality at their favorite beach. Oregon, for example, doesn''t regularly monitor beach water for swimmer safety. Louisiana monitors a few beaches but has no statewide monitoring program. Washington also has no formal monitoring statewide program and leaves it to individual communities to voluntarily monitor their local beaches.
The group wants the Bush administration to implement new federal water quality standards, announced in the final days of the Clinton administration, aimed at cleaning up coastal pollution and reducing storm water and agriculture runoff polluting about 21,000 lakes, ponds, streams and rivers across the country.
The most frequent cause of closures and advisories continues to be stormwater runoff, leading to more than 4,102 closures or advisories last year.
Breaks in pipelines or sewage treatment plant failures prompted more than 2,208 closings and advisories. Six percent of the closings and advisories last year were precautionary, due to rainfall known to carry pollution into beach water, chemical spills, red tides or strong waves.
by Virginia Foran