The 12th annual beach report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found there were 19% more beach closures and advisories in 2001 than in 2000. That translates to at least 13,410 closures and advisories at ocean and fresh water beaches across the U.S.
Researchers say the rising numbers are partly due to better monitoring of water quality at beaches by local agencies. But the authors say one of the most disturbing findings is that local authorities admit that they don't know the source of pollution responsible for more than half of the closures and advisories.
"The reporting agencies don't know the source of pollution because, in many cases, no one is systematically tracking it down and attempting to do anything about it," says Sarah Chasis, an NRDC senior attorney and director of the organization's water and coastal program, in a news release. "It's important not only to regularly monitor beaches and notify the public of contamination, but also to identify and control the pollution sources."
When the source of pollution was known, contamination from storm water runoff and raw sewage discharges were the most frequent causes of closures and advisories.
Even though the NRDC says states are doing a better job of keeping tabs on water quality at beaches, there are no consistent standards for monitoring nationwide. For example, two states, Oregon and Louisiana, do not have any regular beach monitoring system or public-notification program.
The council also published a list of its "beach bums" -- 70 communities that do not monitor beaches for swimmer safety, do not notify the public when health standards are violated, do not follow the EPA's recommended standards, and have known pollution sources affecting their beaches.
On the positive side, the NRDC singled out several communities for continuing to closely monitor beach water and taking steps to reduce beach pollution with its annual "beach buddy" award. This year, the awards were given to Branford, Conn.; Key West, Fla.; Salem, Mass.; and the Los Angeles County and San Diego County regional water quality boards.
For a complete list of "beach bums" and ratings of more than 2,400 U.S. beaches, visit the NRDC web site at www.nrdc.org.