County beaches rate high for water quality

COA says dry spell kept beach closings to minimum in 2010

BY KENNYWALTER
Staff Writer

 Advocates gather at Jenkinson’s Pavilion Restaurant in Point Pleasant Beach last week to discuss the annual NRDC beach report. From left to right are John Weber, The Surfrider Foundation; Doug O’Malley, Environment New Jersey; Heather Saffert, Clean Ocean Action; Marilou Halverson, Jenkinson’s; and Cindy Zipf, Clean Ocean Action.  KENNY WALTER Advocates gather at Jenkinson’s Pavilion Restaurant in Point Pleasant Beach last week to discuss the annual NRDC beach report. From left to right are John Weber, The Surfrider Foundation; Doug O’Malley, Environment New Jersey; Heather Saffert, Clean Ocean Action; Marilou Halverson, Jenkinson’s; and Cindy Zipf, Clean Ocean Action. KENNY WALTER A n extremely dry summer in 2010 not only pleased beachgoers but also beach activists, who credited last summer’s dry spell for high marks for water quality at local beaches in an annual water quality report released last week. Sandy Hook-based ocean advocacy group Clean Ocean Action convened a press conference at Jenkinson’s Pavilion on the beach in Point Pleasant on June 29 after the release of the 21st annual National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) beach report.

“Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches” places New Jersey beaches as the second cleanest in the nation in 2010, which COA Executive Director Cindy Zipf saidwas largely due to the unusually dry summer .

New Hampshire was ranked No. 1; last place went to Louisiana.

“We are finally getting up there, butwe are only getting up there because it didn’t rain,” she said. “We need the programthatwill really get to the core of the problem so we can be in the top three every year.”

According to the NRDC, an environmental action group, only 2 percent of the water samples at beaches in New Jersey exceeded the national standards for water that is safe to swim in.

The sampling season runs from mid-May to mid-September. Sampling is done by local or county health departments, which select monitoring stations.

If there is no pollution source nearby, ocean sampling locations are chosen to represent water quality at several nearby beaches, the report states.

In New Jersey, it currently takes two days ofwater sampling in order to make a decision on whether bacterial content is too high to allow swimming and an advisory or closing notice is issued.

Enterococcus bacteria is an indicator of sewage and waste in the water and the sampling threshold level indicates 20 out of a thousand swimmers would become ill due to the presence of that amount of bacteria in the water, explained COA staff scientist Heather Saffert. If bacteria levels exceed the singlesample standard, the beach water is resampled immediately. If the second sample exceeds the standard, the beach is closed.

However, last year Monmouth County municipalities opted to take it upon themselves to speed up that process.

“Last year Monmouth County took the lead andwas the only county to issue an advisory based on one sample,” Saffert said.

Zipf said that there is hope that the federal government will mandate the single-day test but the onus remains on local governments. “New Jersey is finally getting on the map in terms of the rapid test, the same-day test,” she said. “There was a hope we would get federal legislation requiring it, but it didn’t happen .

“Now it is up to a voluntary program with states and counties,” she added.

Zipf said that two samples would take at least 48 hours tomake a decision on the safety of water for swimming, which is too long.

In 2010 there were 109 closures or advisories issued throughout the state, including 17 inMonmouth County.

However, 16 of the 17 issued were on the same day after a heavy rainstorm.

According to the report, beaches that had higher levels of bacteria included beaches in Middletown, Long Branch and Deal.

County beaches listed as having 5 percent of samples that exceed state standards include: Ideal Beach in Middletown, Ocean Beach Club in Long Branch, and South Bath beach in Long Branch, which had 11 percent of samples exceed state standards;

County beaches listed as having zero samples in excess of state standards include: Fort Hancock, E Visitors Center and C Surf beaches, all on Sandy Hook; Joline, Laird, North Bath beaches, Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park and Elberon Beach Club, all in Long Branch; Monmouth Beach Club; Sea Bright Municipal Beach; and Thompson Beach in Leonardo.

No Monmouth County beaches made the nationwide list of the “Top Ten Repeat Offenders,” beaches with “persistent contamination problems” over the past five years. Neitherwere any county beaches listed on the “Superstar Beaches,” a list of beaches that had perfect test results for the past three years.

Other incidents across the state that forced the closure of beaches included sewage spills in CapeMay andAtlantic counties.

According to Saffert, 93 percent of closings or advisory days are due to storm-water runoff.

She said the primary source of pollution of the ocean water is storm-water runoff but sewage overflow is also a contributor.

However, Doug O’Malley, of Environment New Jersey, said that the storm-water runoff problem is a result of more than just rain . “Pollutedwater fromoverdevelopment remains the largest source of beach closures,” he said. “While we can’t control rain storms we can control development.

“While New Jersey was one of the driest states last summer, our closings still were entirely triggered by storm water runoff,” he added.

He also said that many beachgoers aren’t knowledgeable enough about storm water runoff.

“Beachgoers know that storms wash out the day but not enough people know that after the rain has passed the pollution is flushed into our waters,” O’Malley said. “We need to make sure we are doing something about this.”

O’Malley said that he was disappointed thatCongress has not done enough to raise the standards for swimming water quality at beaches, particularly by strengthening the Clean Water Act.

“This should be the time that Congress steps up and looks to strengthen the Clean Water Act in order to fix the wastewater and storm-water infrastructure,” he said. “Unfortunately they are trying to take us back. “Currently there is a stand-alone bill that will weaken the standards for dredge material,” he added. “We don’t need rollbacks, we need their help to fix our aging infrastructure.”

Surfrider Foundation Northeast Regional Manager John Weber added that offshore oil drilling is hurting the coastal state’s economy.

“Offshore oil drilling is not the answer; a clean beach is the economic engine we need, not more oil leases,” he said.

Saffert that there were more than 24,000 closings of America’s beaches last summer, which represents a 29 percent increase.

She went on to say most of the closings were problems on the West Coast, the Pacific area or the Gulf of Mexico.

“This increase is largely due to heavy rainfall in Hawaii, problems in California, and oil washing up in the Gulf of Mexico from the BP disaster,” Saffert said.

Marilou Halvorsen, marketing director for Jenkinson’s, said that clean beaches impact New Jersey’s entire tourist-driven regions.

“To Jenkinson’s and the industry, there really is no larger asset than what’s behind me,” she said. “Keeping the ocean clean is really all of our responsibility.”

The NRDC’s beach report can be downloaded from www.nrdc.org Contact Kenny Walter at kwalter@gmnews.com.