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Clean Ocean Action

73 NJ Beaches Listed With 1 Pollution Exceedance

Report Released As Congress Debates Water Infrastructure Bill To Prevent Run-Off & Sewage Pollution

Trenton – With summer in full swing, water pollution can close New Jersey beaches or put swimmers’ health at risk. Last year, bacteria levels at New Jersey beaches indicated that water was potentially unsafe for swimming there on least one day 73 times, according to the new report Safe for Swimming? by Environment New Jersey Research & Policy Center. The report comes as Congress is set to vote tomorrow on a major spending bill that includes an additional $11 billion for water infrastructure.

“One day of a beach closing is too many. We need to keep our beaches safe for swimming by working with Shore towns to build the infrastructure that will keep the water clean,” said Doug O’Malley, Director of Environment New Jersey Research & Policy Center. “The Shore is packed this summer and our natural areas have been never been more crowded. In the summer of COVID, let’s commit to practicing social distancing, beating the virus and cleaning up our waters. Now is the time to provide funding to ensure that our waters are always safe for swimming by reducing run-off and sewage pollution.”

To assess beach safety, the group examined whether fecal indicator bacteria levels exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) most protective “Beach Action Value,” which is associated with an estimated illness rate of 32 out of every 1,000 swimmers.  Beachwood Beach West in Beachwood and the 25th Street Bay Front Beach in Barnegat Light both had 9 exceedances and had bacteria levels above this safety threshold on 50 percent and 43 percent of the days respectively tested last year. The testing is conducted at 221 Ocean and Bay beaches.

“The Jersey Shore’s ocean water quality isn't perfect, but it has come a long, long way – vastly improving since the late 1980s when hundreds of beaches were closed for weeks on end,” said Cindy Zipf, Executive Director of Clean Ocean Action.  “Over the years, Clean Ocean Action has worked together with many people at the federal, state, and local levels to successfully identify and stop sources of what we call 'poo-llution' into our coastal waterways. Thanks to a grant from the NJDEP, Clean Ocean Action, Save Barnegat Bay, and the Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science (MATES) are teaming-up to find and slow the flow of poo-llution in Barnegat Bay, a hot spot highlighted in the study. The truth is, water quality really depends on all of us, and residents can help by getting involved in protecting your local waterway and always collecting your pet’s waste and never leaving it behind.”

Polluted runoff from roads and parking lots, overflowing or failing sewer systems, and farms are common sources of contamination that can put swimmers’ health at risk and lead authorities to close beaches or issue health advisories. Scientists estimate that 57 million instances of people getting sick each year from contact with polluted waters in the U.S.

“We are committed to finding and fixing the problems that cause our beach closings. We have expended significant resources with multiple partners to date and will now be partnering with a grant to bring in specially trained dogs to sniff-out any sewer leaks that may be under the ground in the coming year to help locate problem areas,” said Beachwood Mayor Ron Roma.

Other New Jersey beaches found potentially unsafe for swimming at least twice in 2019 included beaches in Brick, Harvey Cedars (Bay Front), Sea Girt, Wildwood, Surf City, Belmar, Long Branch, Somers Point, Seaside Park, Upper Township, Highlands Borough, Neptune, North Wildwood, Sea Bright, Sea Isle City, Wildwood Crest and Cape May.

“Everyone is enjoying the beaches this summer so far, but there is always a threat to the shore. The threat is water pollution. Stormwater runoff and sewage end up in our bays and ocean, closing beaches for sometimes days at a time. This report once again is a wake-up call that New Jersey needs to do more to protect our coast and bays from chronic pollution, runoff from fertilizers and septics, and old leaky sewer pipes. As temperatures rise and water infrastructure gets older, we’ll see more closed beaches,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Every time it rains, it pours sewage and runoff. That is why we need state and federal help. The water infrastructure bill up in the House this week is a major step in the right direction to update old water infrastructure and Combined Sewer Overflows. We must move forward with these fixes so that we can make sure that every year our beaches stay open.”

The report recommends major investments to prevent sewage overflows and run-off pollution.  On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the “minibus #1” spending package, which includes an additional $11 billion in emergency water infrastructure funding through the U.S. EPA.

“We must all be aware that, while beautiful, our Barnegat Bay presents unique water quality challenges which require understanding of the implications of fertilizer use and waste management on storm water runoff,” said Brick Township Mayor John G. Ducey. “We applaud and will continue to work with our local and regional non-profit partners to educate property owners on ways we can improve water quality. At the same time, we call on our Federal partners to fully fund water quality improvement initiatives.”

The proposed House funding will be focused on an additional $10 billion for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and nearly a $1 billion for water infrastructure grants, including efforts to replace combined sewer overflows.

“Water quality is critical to the Jersey Shore. Barnegat Bay is an estuary, a combination of fresh water from rivers and salty ocean waters combining. Protecting Barnegat Bay begins in the Pinelands or the headwaters of all rivers, and in our neighboring cities to the north, as pollution from CSOs travel south in our ocean waters and reach the beaches at the shore. We are all connected through water. We must support major investments in water infrastructure improvements if we want to keep our memories alive and our shore economy intact. Swimming, fishing, boating, crabbing, rentals, restaurants and so much more, relies on safe, clean water. Every dollar counts when we invest in water quality, we see the return directly in our local and state economy,” said Britta Wenzel, Executive Director, Save Barnegat Bay.

The House Appropriations Committee is also proposing $10 million for BEACH Act grants for the first time in many years, to better develop and implement beach monitoring and notification programs.

“The ocean beaches are mostly free of problems but it is the bayside beaches where we see high numbers more frequently. We’ve solved certain problems impacting the ocean like dumping and treatment plant outfall pipes. But bay beaches are the recipients of all the water falling on the land around them. We can address that with better infrastructure and low impact development techniques,” said John Weber, Mid Atlantic Regional Manager for the Surfrider Foundation.

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Addendum 1: New Jersey Bay and Ocean Beaches with Highest Number of Exceedances

Beach Location:

Beachwood Borough at Beachwood Beach West

Beachwood Beach West

18

9

0.5

Barnegat Light Borough at 25th St Bay Front

Barnegat Light Bay Beach

21

9

0.428571

Brick Township at Windward Beach

Windward Beach

21

8

0.380952

Harvey Cedars Borough at 75th Bay Front

Harvey Cedars Borough at 75th Bay Front

16

4

0.25

Sea Girt Borough at New York Blvd

Sea Girt Borough at New York Blvd

18

4

0.222222

Wildwood City at Bennett

Wildwood City at Bennett

20

4

0.2

Surf City Borough at 16th St Bay Front

Surf City Borough at 16th St. Bay Front

13

3

0.230769

Belmar Borough at L Street Beach

Belmar Borough at L Street Beach

15

3

0.2

Belmar Borough at 20th

Belmar Borough at 20th

17

3

0.176471

Long Branch City at Elberon Bch Clb

Long Branch City at Elberon Beach Club

17

3

0.176471

Somers Point City at New Jersey Ave

Somers Point City at New Jersey Ave

17

3

0.176471

Seaside Park Borough at 5th Ave Bay Front

Seaside Park Borough at 5th Ave Bay Front

18

3

0.166667

Wildwood City at Montgomery

Wildwood City at Montgomery

19

3

0.157895

Addendum 2: Report Methodology

The date for water quality exceedances at New Jersey beaches all comes from 2019. The data we used for New Jersey, and every other state, is the data that states submitted to the national Water Quality Portal. Most of that same data is also is EPA’s BEACON beach data system. We didn’t do any of our own water sampling – whatever data New Jersey submitted for 2019 is what we looked at.  

Here is the link to the Water Quality Portal, from which we downloaded data for the report: undefined We linked data to BEACH Act beaches using each sample’s Project ID field. We used a Beach Action Value (BAV) of 60 cfu/100ML for enterococcus and 190 cfu/100ML for E. coli.  In New Jersey, we only looked at entero samples. These align with the EPA’s Beach Action Value associated with an estimated illness rate of 32 out of 1000 swimmers.

Water quality data presented in this report is not necessarily comparable between beaches or states, as sampling techniques, reporting practices, frequency of testing and other factors vary by agency and by site. For some beaches, results are reported as a daily summary of multiple individual samples, with the potential to mask certain high bacteria readings. Some beaches are subject to additional testing following rainfall, pollution events like sewage spills, or as follow-up to other tests showing high bacteria counts, creating the potential for those beaches to show a higher percentage of contaminated days than if sampling had occurred at regular intervals. Some beaches are tested more often than others, including multiple times per day, or at multiple testing sites (beaches with multiple testing sites are marked with an asterisk in state tables below). Many beaches are not monitored at all and may present risks that are unaddressed in this report.

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