By Karen De Vito
This past July, the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) published the thirteenth edition of their vacation beaches water quality guide. The report, Testing the Waters 2003: A Comprehensive Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches, is the result of a NRDC study that examines beach closings, beach water monitoring, and public-notification programs in costal and Great Lakes states. Although the report finds that America’s waters are generally cleaner now than they were 25 years ago, the report states that none of New York’s 577 Great Lakes shoreline miles fully support designated uses. Nonpoint source pollution is the number one cause of water quality degradation, which accounted for 92 percent of quality-impaired Great Lakes shoreline.
According to the New York State section of the report, New York does not require counties to monitor swimming beaches. Instead, the state’s county health departments are responsible for making sanitary surveys of all beaches. Under current law,water quality standards for bathing beaches are based on fecal and total coliform. The EPA however, recommends using a bacterial standard based on E. coli for freshwater bodies. Out of the nine counties that border Lake Erie and Lake Ontario in New York, only four routinely monitor beach water. Of those four, Chautauqua, Niagara, and Monroe Counties monitor their beaches at least once a week.
In terms of issuing advisories or closing beaches, there are five counties, plus New York City, that issue advisories or close beaches based on rainfall amounts. Erie County health departments issue advisories after significant rainfall events and Monroe County has a preemptive closure policy for several bathing beaches. Cayuga County regularly monitors 92 percent of its beaches less than once a week, Orleans and Oswego Counties only monitor several times per season, and Wayne County does not monitor their beaches.
The chart below compares beach closings and advisories for counties along New York’s Great Lakes shoreline over the past three years. Out of the 143 days in 2002 that beach closings occurred, thirty-two percent were due to monitoring that revealed elevated bacteria levels. Elevated bacteria levels were due largely to wildlife sources (54 percent), with just seven percent resulting from a sewage leak or spill.
Great Lakes Basin Beach Closing and Advisories by County:
*Source: NRDC Report: Testing the Waters 2003: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches
For a complete listing of New York beaches that had a closing/advisory in 2002, visit www.nrdc.org/waters/oceans. If you are interested in obtaining a copy of the report contact Karen De Vito at 518-462-5526 ext. 235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.