Texas Beach Advisories Decrease

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Environment Texas Calls for Faster Pollution Testing, Support for Prop. 9

Environment Texas

AUSTIN –  As thousands of Texans flock to Gulf Coast beaches, Environment Texas reported that beach advisories due to pollution dropped last year in Texas, according to the Natural Resource Defense Council’s 19th annual beachwater quality report.   Environment Texas called for increased federal funding and faster testing for beachwater pollution.  

Across the country, the number of closing and advisory days at ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches reached more than 20,000 for the fourth consecutive year, confirming that our nation’s beaches continue to suffer from serious water pollution that puts swimmers at risk.

“When families head to the beach this summer, they shouldn’t have to worry about swimming in polluted water that can make them sick, said McCall Johnson of Environment Texas. “We applaud the General Land Office for the Texas Beach Watch notification effort that helps to protect public health by giving beachgoers easily accessible information about water quality.” Texans can review local beach quality at www.texasbeachwatch.com. 

Using data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the report, Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches, confirms that our nation’s beachwaters continue to suffer from serious contamination – including human and animal waste – that can make people sick. The report tallied 318 beach health advisory days in 2008 in Texas, a 40 percent decline from the year before. 

While the report found a 10 percent decrease in closing and advisory days at beaches nationwide from 2007, it reveals this drop was the result of dry conditions in many parts of the country and decreased funding for water monitoring in some states last year, rather than a sign of large-scale improvement. The decline follows two years of record-high closing and advisory days and the primary pollution source, stormwater runoff after heavy rains, continues to be a serious problem that has not been addressed. 

“When the rains return,” said Nancy Stoner, NRDC Water Program Co-Director, “so will pollution, forcing beaches to issue more closings and advisory days.”

The report also provides a five-star rating guide for 200 of the nation’s most popular beaches, based on indicators of beachwater quality, monitoring frequency, and public notification of contamination. In Texas, South Padre Island (in the town and at access point 6) received a four star rating and Surfside and Rockport received two star ratings. 

Nationally, seven percent of beachwater samples violated health standards – indicating the presence of human or animal waste – showing no improvement from 2007 or 2006.  In Texas the percentage of health standard exceedances decreased to 6% percent in 2008 from 9% percent in 2007. Texas ranks 18th in the nation for its beachwater quality testing. In Texas most of the beach advisory days were caused by unknown sources, and 29% were caused by stormwater runoff.  

The beaches with the highest percent exceedance rate in 2008 were Ropes Park and Cole Park, popular windsurfing beaches near Corpus Christ, JFK Causeway-SW, Nueces Bay Causeway #4 and Laguna Shores, popular fishing beaches near Corpus Christi and Apffel Park near Galveston, one of the most popular swimming beaches in Texas. 

Beachwater pollution makes swimmers vulnerable to a range of waterborne illnesses 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 best way to protect swimmers from beachwater pollution is to prevent it, according to Environment Texas. Federal, state and local governments can make this a priority by requiring better controls on stormwater and sewage, the two largest known sources of beachwater pollution. A key solution is to utilize low impact development techniques in communities to retain and filter rainwater where it falls, letting it soak back into the ground rather than running off into waterways. This includes strategically placed rain gardens in yards, tree boxes on city sidewalks, green roofs that use absorbent vegetation on top of buildings, and permeable pavement that allows water to penetrate the material, instead of asphalt or concrete.

For the first time, the report this year explores the effects of global warming on beachwater quality, revealing that global warming is expected to make pollution worse. The combined effects of temperature increases, and more frequent and intense rainstorms, will lead to increased stormwater runoff, sewer pollution and disease-causing pathogens in nearby waterways. Specifically, global warming is anticipated to influence the presence of pathogens that cause stomach flu, diarrhea and neurological problems in America’s beachwater.

The Clean Coastal Environment and Public Health Act (H.R. 2903/S. 878) pending in Congress would provide money for more beachwater sampling and require the use of faster testing methods so people get timely information about whether it is safe to swim. 

“We urge the Texas Congressional Delegation the to support the Clean Coastal Environment and Public Health Act and ensure America’s beaches are tested for pollution quickly enough to protect public health,” said Johnson.

On Nov. 3, Texas voters will consider a constitutional amendment “to protect the right of the public, individually and collectively, to access and use the public beaches bordering the seaward shore of the Gulf of Mexico.” Environment Texas, Gulf Restoration Network and Surfrider Foundation urge Texas voters to approve Proposition 9 this November.  

“Texans demand and deserve public access to a safe beach,” said Ellis Pickett of the Gulf Restoration Network. “Texans should vote for the beach this November!”

Additionally, the American Clean Energy and Security Act that recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives will curb global warming pollution and help communities prepare for further impacts of global warming on coastal communities such as flooding, sea level rise, increased stormwater pollution and sewer overflows.