Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Casino Beach Draws 3-Star Rating

Today, the Natural Resources Defense Council issued its 18th annual report on beach water quality, “Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches.”

The report relies upon and analyzes EPA and state test results of pollution and bacterial content throughout the year at thousands of popular swimming beaches across the nation. Although nationally the news is not good, the central public swimming area at Pensacola Beach, known as Casino Beach, received a "3-star" rating, placing it among the cleanest in the nation.

For the third year in a row, there were zero weeks when water standards on Casino Beach, as tested weekly, did not meet EPA standards. This led the NRDC to award Casino Beach the three stars, out of a possible five stars.

A five star rating requires water quality monitoring more frequently than once a week -- the minimum EPA requirement -- and closing notice practices that shut beaches down after a single test while waiting for confirming second test results. None of the 308 Florida swimming beaches NRDC evaluated tests more than once a week or warns while awaiting a second test.

Nearby Quietwater Beach wasn't as clean. In 2007, on nine weeks the water quality was so poor that beach advisories had to be issued. That compares with five weeks the year before and seven in 2005.

Quietwater Beach is going backward. This Soundside beach often is preferred by families with very young children because of the comparatively quiescent surf. But the water there also is popular with boaters and wave runners, the sewer plant is not far away, and storm water runoff from nearby streets and parking lots all have been identified in the past as probable sources for elevated readings of bacteria, benzene, and other pollutants.

Last year, for the first time in the three year comparison period, swimming areas at Navarre Beach also received top "3 star" quality ratings, based on once-a-week sampling. The "1-star" beach at Bayview Park in Pensacola improved over previous years, but still had ten weeks of water quality warnings in 2007.

As the Environmental News Service reports, nationwide --
Sprawling development in coastal areas is eliminating wetlands and other natural buffers such as dunes and beach grass that would have helped filter out pollution before it reaches the beach, the report points out.

Not only are the beaches polluted, the way they are tested is also failing the American public, according to NRDC.

Beach water quality standards are more than 20 years old and rely on outdated science and monitoring methods that leave beach goers vulnerable to a range of waterborne illnesses including gastroenteritis, dysentery, hepatitis, and respiratory ailments. For senior citizens, small children, and people with weak immune systems, the results can be fatal.

The full 447-page NRDC report on all of the nation's tested beaches is here [pdf warning]. A table of "select" beaches and their ratings is here [also pdf].

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