Why should we pay fees to control polluted rainwater running off of parking lots and streets into waterways? A Maryland law required such fees to be created by the state's nine largest counties and Baltimore by July 1.
Polluted runoff is the leading cause of beach closures nationally, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s report on the quality of water at swimming beaches, called Testing the Waters.
Last summer, beaches across the U.S. were closed or the subject of swimming health warnings for a cumulative total of 20,120 days, according to the report. Each closure day for a separate beach was counted separately. Local health officials issued more than 80 percent of these closings and advisories in 2012 because testing revealed bacteria levels in the water violated public health standards. This was a potential indication of human or animal waste.
Runoff was the largest known source of this pollution, contributing to 28 percent of the closing or advisory days, according to the report.
In general, the Great Lakes region had the highest rates of contamination at swimming beaches. Ohio ranked worst among the 30 states studied. These states were selected because they have shorelines along large lakes, bays, or oceans.
The Chesapeake region states did better, but still had some water quality problems and beach closures.
Delaware’s beaches on the Atlantic Ocean were the cleanest in the nation, with Virginia’s beaches ranked sixth best, Maryland’s 11th best, and Pennsylvania’s 23rd out of the 30 states examined. The low ranking for Pennsylvania was largely because of the Keystone state’s beaches on polluted Lake Erie.
On the Chesapeake Bay, in Maryland, the beaches with highest rates of water samples exceeding health standards for bacteria in 2012 were Mayo Beach Park in Anne Arundel County (19%), Grove Point Camp in Cecil County (17%), Gunpowder State Park Hammerman in Baltimore County (15%), Sandy Point State Park East Beach in Anne Arundel County (11%), and Elk Neck State Park North East River in Cecil County (8%), according to the report.
In Virginia, the beaches with water samples exceeding health standards most often in 2012 were Fairview Beach in King George County (25%), Lesner Bridge East in the city of Virginia Beach (17%), and 10th View Beach Access in the city of Norfolk (9%), according to the report.
On the positive side, the Natural Resources Defense Council awarded two beaches in our region “five star” ratings for their cleanliness and called them “superstar beaches.” These were Ocean City beach in Maryland, and Rehoboth Beach, in Delaware. However, both of these beaches are on the Atlantic Ocean, which has a vastly larger volume of water than the Chesapeake Bay, and therefore can dilute polluted runoff from urban areas more easily than the Chesapeake Bay. For beaches on the Bay, polluted runoff remains a serious threat to the quality of water.
This is why we all need to follow the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint (link) to reduce pollution and allow our children to play on our beaches more often. There’s nothing worse than a summer day with a “no swimming” sign spoiling your vacation.
To read the whole report, click here. Or click here for the report on Maryland; click here for Virginia; click here for Pennsylvania.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
(Photo from NRDC)