The Clean Water Act, adopted in 1972 with overwhelming bi-partisan support, had the farsighted and righteous goal of making all our waterways safe for swimming. Yet 46 years later, Americans visiting their favorite beaches are all too often met by an advisory warning that the water is unsafe for swimming. Even worse, in recent years millions of Americans have been sickened by swimming in contaminated water.
An analysis of bacteria sampling data from beaches in 29 coastal and Great Lakes states, and Puerto Rico reveals that 2,580 beach sites — more than half of all sites tested — were potentially unsafe for swimming on at least one day in 2018, and 546 sites were potentially unsafe at least 25 percent of the days that sampling took place. Sites were considered potentially unsafe if bacteria levels exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s most protective “Beach Action Value” threshold, the level at which the agency estimates 32 out of 1,000 swimmers will get sick from swimming in these waters.