STATE’S BEACH-MONITORING NETWORK IN GEAR FOR SUMMER SEASON
(10/P49) TRENTON -With the unofficial start of the summer season this Memorial Day weekend, the Department of Environmental Protection is again leading comprehensive, multi-agency efforts to ensure the highest standards of water quality for New Jersey’s beaches.
“The shore is the backbone of our $40 billion tourism economy,” DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said today during the New Jersey Marine Sciences Consortium/New Jersey Sea Grant Program annual State of the Shore news conference in Sandy Hook. “When people come to spend a day, a weekend or a week at the Jersey Shore, they expect beaches to be open and the water to be clean. At the DEP, we insist on the highest standards in both regards - and we reach them consistently. We’re looking forward to another spectacular season.”
The federal Environmental Protection Agency consistently ranks New Jersey’s Cooperative Coastal Monitoring Program as one of the best in the nation. This network draws on state, federal and local resources to monitor the beaches and close them if bacteria counts exceed standards.
Commissioner Martin added that the DEP is looking for ways to improve the program, including continuing to work with the EPA on developing a bacteria test that provides nearly immediate results, which would result in more timely posting of results on the DEP’s web site. The Commissioner would also like to see water testing expanded year-round.
Beaches in New Jersey were open 99.8 percent of the time during the 2009 season, one of the best records on the East Coast. Ocean beaches were closed just nine times for elevated levels of bacteria - six times in Monmouth County related to runoff from heavy rain and three times in Cape May City related to a leak in a sewer pipe.
Additional beaches were closed as a precaution as the result of a pleasure boat that capsized off Long Beach Township on July 27.
No beaches were closed last season as the result of wash-ups of debris or trash. On several occasions, aggressive monitoring allowed officials to head off beach closures by responding rapidly to reports of debris and trash.
Ocean and bay beaches were closed a total of 180 times last season. Of these, 108 were precautionary closings related to concerns with potential stormwater discharges from Monmouth County’s Wreck Pond, an ongoing problem. Another 56 bay beaches were closed.
New Jersey beaches were open 99.8 percent of the 78,400 beach days available during the season. Beach days are arrived at by multiplying life-guarded beaches by days in the season, which runs from Memorial Day to the week after Labor Day.
“The many people who make this program work by gathering water samples, driving them to labs, running bacteria tests, flying surveillance, picking up litter, or in countless other ways don’t get the recognition they deserve,” Commissioner Martin said. “But they are the ones who make sure the summer season is safe and enjoyable for millions of people.”
The Cooperative Coastal Monitoring Program is funded by the state’s “Shore to Please” license-plate program and funding from the EPA’s Beaches Environmental Health Assessment and Coastal Health grants. It involves all levels of government.
County and local health departments wade into the surf, collecting water samples at more than 240 ocean and bay beaches.
In the air, DEP aircraft fly the coastline six days a week, looking for debris, algae blooms or signs of impaired water quality. The EPA uses helicopters to look for debris and trash. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deploys vessels to remove the materials before they can wash up on beaches.
In addition, volunteers in the DEP’s Adopt-A-Beach program last year collected more than 58,000 pieces of litter. Through the Clean Shores Program, prison inmates removed 3.75 million pounds of trash and debris from 151 miles of Atlantic and bay shorelines.
New Jersey measures enterococcus bacteria to determine if beaches should be closed. Beaches are closed if they exceed a standard of 104 enterococci bacteria per 100 milliliters of water. Beaches are closed if an initial sample and a follow-up sample exceed this standard.
For water sampling results, beach closings and a copy of the Cooperative Coastal Monitoring Program 2009 report, visit www.njbeaches.org. For beach closing updates, you may also call (800) 648-SAND.