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Surf's up for beach water quality

Over the last several years, thousands of beaches have been closed as a result of bacterial contamination from sewage and polluted runoff from farms and city streets   

April 27, 1999
Web posted at: 3:55 PM EDT

Surfers have been campaigning for years for beach water quality monitoring, and they -- and the rest of the ocean-going public -- took a step forward April 22 when the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the B.E.A.C.H. bill.

Most of us, when we plan our summer vacations at the beach, don't think of getting sick. Surfers know better, though.

"A study was released about three years ago that showed swimmers are 50 percent more likely to become ill if they swim within 50 yards of storm drain outfalls or river mouths -- and that's where the surf is best," says Michelle Kremer, interim executive director of Surfrider Foundation. Over the last several years, thousands of beaches have been closed as a result of bacterial contamination from sewage and polluted runoff from farms and city streets. But water quality at the majority of public beaches is not tested, or in some cases, it's tested but the public is not notified of the results.

The legislation, H.R. 999, is designed to establish uniform criteria for testing, monitoring and notifying the public of beach water quality.

The legislation doesn't clean anything -- it's merely a device to warn people of potential hazards associated with swimming in our coastal waters, the bill's advocates say.

Introduced and shepherded to passage by Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Calif., the bill has the support of a broad-based coalition of environmentalists, state-based associations and the EPA.

"It was a bipartisan love fest on the floor of the House during the vote," says Darryl Hatheway, board member of Surfrider and chairman of the Washington, D.C., chapter. "Everyone spoke in favor of the bill. Surfrider has been pushing for this for 15 years -- it's just total common sense in terms of public health."

Under the bill, states will have three and one half years from the time it's signed to put testing standards, monitoring timetables and notification programs in place. EPA will step in if a state fails to establish such a program. The bill would also establish a national database where the results of testing can be posted.

EPA released a multi-year plan the same day that would allocate $30 million a year to a cost-share and grant program to help state and local officials establish standards and regular timetables for monitoring sites. The legislation, which is an amendment to the Clean Air Act, will codify EPA authority. Water quality information is currently posted on the Internet at, but includes only data volunteered by states who do monitor beach water quality.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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Protecting beaches and coastal waters -- White House fact sheet

  • Surfrider Foundation USA
  • Center for Marine Conservation
  • American Oceans Campaign
  • Project Aware
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