Maine’s coastal beaches are clean, open and safe for swimming

June 25, 2013

CONTACT:
Jessamine Logan, Director of Communications, ME DEP, (207) 287-5842 or jessamine.logan@maine.gov, Mark Margerum, Maine Healthy Beaches Program Manager mark.t.margerum@maine.gov or 287-7842 or Keri Kaczor, Maine Healthy Beaches Program Coordinator, keri.kaczor@maine.edu

During the 2012 beach season, 95.1 % of total beach days were free of beach advisories or closures.

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

“Now that we are officially in the summer season, it is important to highlight that Maine’s saltwater beaches are not only beautiful, but incredibly clean,” said Governor Paul R. LePage. “I commend the Department of Environmental Protection for its work to protect coastal water quality and provide a safe and healthy environment for beach-goers.” The department-managed Maine Healthy Beaches program relies on federal funding from the U. S. 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.

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 www.mainehealthybeaches.org to discourage recreational contact because of the increased risk of beach users contracting a waterborne illness. During the 2012 beach season, 95.1% of total beach days were free from advisories or closures. The number of water samples exceeding the safety limit was up 1.8 % from the previous summer primarily due to the nearly 22 inches of rainfall, almost double the 2011 rainfall amount. In 2012, there were 86 advisories at the 42 beach management areas. Of all the advisories in 2012, 80% were two-day events or less, the minimum timeframe to allow for resampling and lab analysis, and follow-up testing found that beach water was safe for swimming. Nine of the reported days were preemptive, based on local rainfall levels rather than recorded bacteria levels. Heavy rains often initiate water quality issues as rainwater can wash pollutants into rivers and streams before it eventually ends up at the beach.

“The Department of Environmental Protection is proud that by supporting five new boater pump-out facilities this year for a total of 94 along the coast, we will improve Maine’s coastal water quality and increase the recreational use of our beaches,” said DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho. “With the support of many local partners, Maine’s beachgoers can be confident that the water is safe to enjoy, and I encourage all to be responsible public stewards of our natural 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 provides extensive support to communities through intensified monitoring and by bringing together local, state, and federal partners in a collaborative process focused on sharing resources and solving problems. Projects working to enhance water quality at local beaches included wastewater improvements in Kittery, Kennebunk, Old Orchard Beach and Camden, boat pump out facilities installed in Newcastle-Damariscotta, Brooksville, Chebeague Island, Cundy’s Harbor in Harpswell, and Rockport Harbor, and restoration efforts in the Cape Neddick and Ogunquit Rivers.

For more information about Maine beaches and any posted advisories, visit www.mainehealthybeaches.org.