Ocean City Beach Rating Questioned

BERLIN – Ocean City beaches are actually tested for bacteria twice a week and deserve five stars instead of just the four awarded in a recent report, said county staff this week.

Ocean City’s beaches received four stars out of five in the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) annual report on beach water quality across the nation. The report was released last week.

Every year, NRDC uses information submitted to the federal Environmental Protection Agency to assess beach water quality and compile “Testing the Waters:  A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches.”

However, in last week’s report, NRDC got some information wrong, Worcester County staff was quick to point out this week.

The NRDC report removed one star from Ocean City’s previous five star rating because, according to information in the report, the resort waters are not tested often enough, at just once per week.

However, that information is incorrect.

“We definitely deserve a five star rating. We [test] twice a week. We have done since 2006,” said Bob Mitchell, Worcester County environmental programs administrator.

The county monitors several beaches in Ocean City, two times per week, for enterococcus bacteria. The Beaches Act only requires once weekly monitoring,

“We got a grant so we could do it twice a week … we spend a lot of money doing this and it’s really a public service,” Mitchell said.

Worcester County gets just a few thousand dollars from the state to handle bacteria monitoring for local swimming beaches.

Water samples are taken by a county sanitarian and tested.

The Ocean City wastewater plant also does its own monitoring in the vicinity of the plant’s ocean outfall pipe.

Assateague State Park tests its beaches once a week.

“Assateague’s beaches are the cleanest on the East Coast,” said Mitchell.

Source management is the most important way to protect public health, according to Mitchell.

Identifying potential sources of bacteria before anything is washed into the ocean or bays is the first line of defense in keeping Ocean City’s waters swimmable.

The results of the water sampling, for Ocean City, two spots in the coastal bays, and Assateague Island, are available to the public on the Worcester County website.

“We deserve five stars. I consider that we do have five stars,” said Mitchell.