Health Advisories for Texas Beaches Increase Threefold in 2010

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Environment Texas Calls for Better Protections

Environment Texas

AUSTIN – As Texans flock to the beach, pollution from stormwater runoff and sewage overflows continue to plague Texas’s coast. Environment Texas reported that health advisories due to pollution at Texas beaches went up last year – totaling 704 days of beach advisories, according to Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) 21st annual beachwater quality report released today.

“Our beaches are a pride of Texas and places that people across the region come to visit during the summer,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “But every year we see health advisories issued due to excess pollution. It is time that we take the common sense steps to keep our beaches clean.” 

In its 21st year, NRDC’s annual report – Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches – analyzes government data on beachwater testing results from 2010 at more than 3,000 beach testing locations nationwide. The report confirms that last year, our beachwater continued to suffer from serious contamination – including oil and human and animal waste – and a concerted effort to control future pollution is required. The report tallied 704 health advisory days in 2010 in Texas, a threefold increase from the year before. In Texas, the percentage of health standard exceedances increased to 8 percent in 2010 from 5 percent the previous year.

Some of Texas’ most popular beaches, including those at South Padre Island and at Port Aransas, were given a 4-star rating for consistently high water quality and good testing and notification protocols. However, the report cited Ropes Park of Nueces County as a “Repeat Offender” for having persistent contamination problems, with water samples exceeding health standards more than 25 percent of the time for each year from 2006 to 2010. Testing the Waters this year also includes a special section dedicated to oil-related beach closures, advisories, and notices in the Gulf of Mexico region since the BP oil spill last year. 

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson joined with Environment Texas to alert the public to health threats at Texas beaches. Under Patterson’s leadership, the General Land Office has launched an unparalleled outreach campaign about its beachwater quality monitoring program, including the Texas Beach Watch website which allows users to see real-time data on beach conditions.



“Texas’s beaches have long suffered from pollution – the difference is now we know what to do about it,” said NRDC senior attorney Jon Devine. “By making our communities literally greener on land, we can make the water at the beach cleaner. In the years to come, there’s no reason we can’t reverse this dirty legacy.” 

The large majority of closing and advisory days nationwide – 70 percent – were issued because testing revealed indicator bacteria levels in the water that exceeded health standards, indicating the presence of human or animal waste. Stormwater runoff was the primary source of known pollution nationwide, consistent with past years, indicating the problem has not been sufficiently addressed at the national level. Sewage overflows were also a contributor.

Beachwater pollution nationwide causes a range of waterborne illnesses in swimmers including stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, ear, nose and throat problems, dysentery, hepatitis, respiratory ailments, neurological disorders and other serious health problems. For senior citizens, small children and people with weak immune systems, the results can be fatal. The incidence of infections has been steadily growing over the past several decades, and with coastal populations growing it is reasonable to expect this upward trend to continue until the pollution sources are addressed.

More than a year later, the impacts of the BP oil disaster – the worst in U.S. history – still linger in the Gulf of Mexico. Over the course of two months, approximately 170 million gallons of oil gushed into Gulf waters, washing up on approximately 1,000 miles of shoreline. As of the end of January, 83 miles of shoreline remained heavily or moderately oiled, while tar balls and weathered oil continue to wash ashore.

In order to help ensure a disaster like this never happens again, Congress should implement the recommendations of President Obama’s National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling and help move the nation to cleaner sources of energy that can’t spill or run out.

The best way to protect swimmers from beachwater pollution is to prevent it, according to Environment Texas. A key solution is investing in smarter, greener infrastructure on land – like porous pavement, green roofs, parks, roadside plantings and rain barrels – that makes a real difference in the water.

Green infrastructure stops rain where it falls, storing it or letting it filter back into the ground naturally. This keeps it from running off dirty streets and carrying pollution to the beach. And it keeps it from overloading sewage systems and triggering overflows. 

Cities nationwide are already starting to embrace these practices at the local level. Now, our federal government has significant opportunities to increase its prevalence on the national level. 

“The EPA has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to expand the use of green infrastructure in communities nationwide. Right now they are in the process of updating their national rules for tackling runoff pollution,” said Metzger.  “We urge the EPA to protect Texas’s beaches by creating strong stormwater regulations to reduce runoff from new and existing developments, and apply runoff standards to all communities.”