Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Climate change a threat to beach quality

How safe is your beach?
A report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) on the state of American beaches show that climate change will make water pollution worse.

NRDC’s report – Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches – compiled with data from the EPA, illustrates that American beaches are egregiously contaminated. One of the main sources of contaminants and cause of beach closures is storm water runoff. Funneled through stormwater pipes and the sewer system, human and animal waste matter can infiltrate local beaches after heavy rains.

“Pollution from dirty stormwater runoff and sewage overflows continues to make its way to our beaches. This not only makes swimmers sick – it hurts coastal economies,” said Nancy Stoner, NRDC Water Program Co-Director. “Americans should not suffer the consequences of contaminated beachwater. From contracting the flu or pink eye, to jeopardizing millions of jobs and billions of dollars that rely on clean coasts, there are serious costs to inaction.”

Health concerns identified
According to the NRDC report the health of swimmers nationwide was compromised last year as the number of beach advisory and closings exceeded 20 000 for the fourth year in a row.

Without climate change mitigation beach conditions are expected to worsen. Exploring the effect of climate change on beachwater quality for the first time the NRDC report opines that through a combination of rising temperatures and more, intense summer storms pollution and health problems will rise.

Issues arising from climate change include health issues from pathogens found on the nation's beaches. These pathogens cause intestinal and neurological problems. The report states that health concerns from polluted beaches can be fatal for people with weak immune systems, children and the elderly.

“Nobody wants their trip to the beach to send them to the bathroom or, worse, the emergency room,” said Stoner. “It is vitally important to remember that if it has recently rained – or you see or smell a pipe discharging onto the beach – keep your head above water or avoid swimming altogether.”

Stormwater issues
Stormwater runoff - the primary source of pollution - continues to be a serious problem that has not been addressed. The NRDC suggests that federal, state and local governments act together to make beachwater quality a priority.

Proven measures to lessen the impact of climate change on beach quality include enhanced stormwater controls and filtering rain where it falls on the ground. Filtering includes green roofs, permeable pavement, rain gardens and tree boxes on city streets.

Measures such as those outlined above would help regions like the Great Lakes. Wetter than usual conditions in the area in 2008 saw a 13 percent increase in closing and advisory days. The region also happened to have one of the highest levels of contamination in the nation as 13 percent of its samples exceeded health standards. Historically, the Great Lakes region has been the dirtiest in the nation over the last four years of the NRDC reports.

Nationwide, samples containing human or animal fecal matter averaged seven percent - showing no change from 2006.More than 200 beaches are rated in the report.

Five-star ratings
Not all is gloom and doom in the report as the NRDC takes a page out of popular guide books and provide a five-star beach rating system. The ratings can help you plan your next vacation spot or warn you away from certain local beaches.

Communities that can boast of having five-star beaches include Laguna, Newport and Huntington Beach in California, Duluth, Minnesota and Ocean City, Maryland.

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