Beaches Earn Top Water Quality Ratings

OCEAN CITY — Ocean City and Assateague each earned five-star ratings in an annual report released this week on water quality at beaches around the country, and two neighbors to the north were awarded “Superstar” status, but the news for many resorts around the rest of the nation were not as glowing.

According to “Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches,” an independent report released this week each year by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), water quality at beaches in Ocean City and Assateague earned perfect 5-star ratings again. For the 21st year in a row, the NRDC reviewed data supplied by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to rate water quality at beaches on a variety of standards including acceptable levels of bacteria, frequency of monitoring and the number of closings and advisories over the course of the year.

The report provides a five-star rating guide to 200 of the nation’s most popular beaches. The all-important water quality star is granted to those beaches whose tests exceeded the acceptable national health standards for bacteria less than five percent of the time. Ocean City water quality, which is tested weekly, achieved the goal although it did exceed the acceptable standards 3.45 percent of the time over the last year.

The same figure in Ocean City held true for 2009, although the resort exceeded the five-percent threshold just .95 percent of the time in 2008. At Assateague, where water quality is also tested weekly, the tests never exceeded the acceptable national standards. For the first time this year, the NRDC awarded the nation’s top performers with “Superstar” status.

Neighboring Dewey Beach and Rehoboth were two of the four beaches across the nation to be awarded with “Superstar” status in the inaugural year for the designation.

The other two beaches to earn “Superstar” status were Park Point Lafayette Community Club Beach in St. Louis County, Minn., and the Hampton Beach State Park in Rockingham County, N.H.

The NRDC also pointed out sections of beaches that have stood out for having persistent contamination problems over the last five years with a Top 10 Repeat Offenders distinction. Three of the Top 10 Repeat Offenders are located in California.

While the news was good for Ocean City and Assateague, and great for Dewey Beach and Rehoboth, many of the beaches around the country did not fare as well. According to the NRDC report, pollution from stormwater runoff and sewage overflows continue to plague America’s beaches, which saw the second highest number of closing and advisory days in more than two decades last year.

Fortunately, according to the NRDC report, “Testing the Waters” points out the deficiencies and helps steer local jurisdictions in their efforts to reduce pollution and contamination.

“America’s beaches have long suffered from pollution,” said NRDC senior attorney Jon Devine. “The difference is now we know what to do about it. By making our communities literally greener on land, we can make the water at the beach cleaner.”

Taking those steps will reduce pollution on the beaches and enhance the economic benefits of the resorts, according to the report.

“Clean beach water is not only good for public health, it supports healthy coastal economies that generate billions of dollars and support millions of American jobs,” said NRDC Water Program Director David Beckman. “By taking steps to stop the biggest sources of pollution in the waves, we can help keep trips to the beach carefree and support our lucrative tourism industries worldwide.”