US EPA - Environmental Protection Agency

EPA provides environmental monitoring of Maine’s coastal beaches

With the summer beach season in high gear, EPA’s New England office is awarding a US$252,220 grant to help support the Maine Healthy Beaches Program to continue efforts to monitor water quality conditions at Maine beaches to ensure that people enjoying the beach are also enjoying healthy water conditions.

This EPA funding was made available through the federal Beach Act of 2000, which requires coastal states to monitor beaches and notify the public about water quality. Since 2001, when the program began, Maine has been awarded over $1.6 million towards improving water quality monitoring along coastal beaches. With this years’ funds, the amount awarded in the region will surpass $8 million.

The EPA funding assists Maine’s Healthy Beaches program, a seven-year-old effort to improve monitoring and overall water quality at state coastal beaches. In 2001 only three Maine beaches were monitored and in 2007, the state expanded the program to include 58 beaches. “Because Maine’s beach season is so short, it makes every beach day a precious one,” said Robert Varney, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “EPA’s goal is to eliminate chronic beach closures across New England. We are working with state and local officials to develop and implement aggressive efforts to remove sources of contamination, so that everyone can enjoy a day at the beach.”

EPA's Clean New England Beaches Initiative has helped states and local beach managers take the next steps of finding and eliminating pollution sources that cause beach closures. We are doubling our efforts this year to develop action plans for those communities with chronic closures at coastal beaches.

“This EPA-funded program gives us beach information that we never had before,” said Martha Freeman, Director of the Maine State Planning Office (SPO). “Now residents and visitors can make informed choices about their beach activities and stay healthy,” she said. The Maine Healthy Beaches Program is administered by the Maine Coastal Program at SPO. Freeman added, “We very much appreciate the work that our partner state agencies, the Marine Extension Team at the University of Maine Sea Grant, EPA, beach communities, and all of our beach monitors do to help keep our swimming beaches safe so that we all can enjoy them.”

Polluted runoff and untreated sewage released into the water can contain bacteria, viruses, and protozoa, some of which can cause minor illnesses such as gastroenteritis or more serious diseases such as hepatitis. Runoff can be contaminated from pet waste, wildlife, illicit connections and various other sources. Sources of sewage include leaking sewer pipes, failing septic systems, boats and combined sewer overflows. Detecting these bacteria requires consistent, high quality monitoring; exposure is preventable.

Maine Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner David Littell added “Clean beaches are healthy beaches for the people that use them and the ecosystems around them. We are grateful to the EPA for providing funding to the many partners who work on the Healthy Beaches program to continue to monitor Maine’s beaches. Clean and healthy beaches are an important part of our economy, especially during the busy tourism season, and keeping the public informed regarding the safety of our beaches is an important service that government provides.”

The number of beach closures in any given year in Maine has been low, but according to the most recent Maine Healthy Beaches Program data from the 2007 season, 30 out of 47 monitored beaches posted advisories for one or several days because of water pollution.

That’s a substantial increase from the number of 2004 beach advisories, possibly because of runoff due to heavy rainfall and because the total number of beaches monitoring for sources of contamination is much higher now than when the program started.

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