Maine DEP Data Shows State's Coastal Beach Water Quality Best Since 2008

June 29, 2012

CONTACT:
Samantha DePoy-Warren, Maine DEP Director of Communications samantha.depoy-warren@maine.gov or 287-5842 or Mark Margerum, Maine Healthy Beaches Program Manager mark.t.margerum@maine.gov or 287-7842

-More than two-thirds of Maine’s 61 coastal public-access beaches had no water quality issues in 2011 that led to an advisory or closure posting, resulting in the beaches being open and safe for swimming 98.2 percent of the time-

AUGUSTA – Mainers heading to the state’s coastal beaches to beat this weekend’s forecasted heat wave will find them clean, open and safe for swimming.

Data released today by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection shows the water quality at Maine’s 61 public access beaches, comprising more than 30 miles of the state’s coastline, is the best it has been since 2008.

The department-managed Maine Healthy Beaches program relies on funding from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and staff support from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension/Sea Grant to monitor recreational water quality and protect public health at Maine’s beautiful beaches, which span from Fort Foster in Kittery up the coast to Bar Harbor, which boasts three public beaches.

Beaches are monitored weekly by program volunteers, municipal staff and state park employees from Memorial Day through Labor Day, with water samples analyzed for the enterococcus bacteria, which is an indication of the presence of fecal contamination from humans and animals including dogs and waterfowl.

When bacteria levels exceed the EPA established limitations, beach managers in conjunction with program staff will post an advisory –or in worst case scenarios, a closure notice– at all major public access points to the beach and online at http://www.mainehealthybeaches.org to discourage recreational contact because of the increased risk of beach users contracting a waterborne illness.

In 2011, the program reported that beach advisory days were down nearly 50 percent from the previous summer, with 51 water quality events totaling 112 days of posted advisories, compared to the 71 water quality events totaling 207 days of posted advisories in 2010.

More than two-thirds of the 61 beaches had no water quality issues in 2011 that led to an advisory posting with 98.1 percent of beach days open and safe for swimming, compared to the previous year where nearly half of the beaches had an advisory posted at least once. Nearly all of the advisories in 2011 were two-day events –the minimum timeframe to allow for resampling and lab analysis– with follow-up testing finding that beach water was safe for swimming.

The improvements are especially impressive given an increase of 3 inches of rainfall from 2010 (10.48 inches) to 2011 (13.45 inches), with heavy rains often initiating water quality issues as rainwater can wash pollutants into rivers and streams before it eventually ends up at the beach.

“Maine should take pride that its storied salt-water beaches are not only beautiful but they are incredibly clean. As summer sets in and Mainers and visitors alike head to the beach, they can be confident what they’ll find is almost always open and safe for swimming,” said DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho. “On behalf of all who enjoy the Maine coast, I want to thank the many local partners and public beachgoers for their stewardship of this invaluable resource.”

Healthy habits for beach goers include avoiding swimming after heavy rainfall; not ingesting beach water; taking children to the bathroom often and utilizing swim diapers; disposing of trash and pet waste properly; and not discharging untreated boat sewage.

Beyond monitoring beach water quality for recreational uses, the program helps communities identify, eliminate and prevent sources of pollution and the effectiveness of those efforts are reflected in the improvements seen in 2011.

Among the past pursued projects that have led to enhanced water quality at local beaches were wastewater infrastructure improvements in Lincolnville, restoration efforts in the Cape Neddick River and the expansion of sewer infrastructure to more users in Ogunquit.
For more information about Maine beaches and any posted advisories, visit http://www.mainehealthybeaches.org

-END-