April 22, 2012
The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act of 2000 (BEACH Act) is a Federal Act by the Environmental Protection Agency, which aims to increase the quality of recreational waters by testing for pathogens. This Act has been very helpful to improve the quality of waters in many states especially in states such as Oregon and Washington, which did not have any legislation of this manner. The BEACH Act amended the Clean Water Act and called for testing of coastal waters by appropriate indicators and in a manner that is “appropriate, accurate, expeditious, and cost-effective.” While the implementation of this act has improved coastal water quality, there are still improvements to be made, and with recent budget problems, the funding to beach testing could possibly be cut.
Due to the uncertainty of our economy, the EPA has said that they will cut the $10 million they give to states for testing recreational waters. They are cutting these funds and allowing local governments to take over testing because they now have the technology and expertise. However, these funds are vital for local monitoring because they allocate important funds to the state for local testing, and without these funds, “states will decrease the number of beaches they monitor, the frequency or cut back on resources they use to notify the public about conditions at the beach.” California’s budget problems have led to a scaling back of beach testing, but a law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown provided $1.8 million for testing. So, unless California and other beach states can find their own funding for recreational water testing, the future of beachgoers health may be in jeopardy.
However, the federal government insists that local governments are capable of handling beach testing. Because the EPA has been providing guidance and support for fifteen years, they argue that by know local governments should have developed efficient programs for beach testing. Indeed, any local governments assert that they have become self-sufficient in their beach water quality management. As Santa Cruz director John Ricker stated, “We’ve been doing beach water quality testing since the 70s, long before it was mandated or funded by the state. We kind of just go ahead and do our program, and were happy to get revenue wherever we can.” This independence reveals how local governments are capable of maintaining beach testing if they take initiative without such extreme handholding from the EPA.
Furthermore, the amount of funding received from the federal government varies state by state to begin with. For example, although California has an immense amount of coastlines and beaches, it receives a smaller portion when the EPA decides to divert funding other states that need encouragement to begin beach testing to begin with. States and local governments should be able to conduct testing independent of federal support since it can be inconsistent and is not always guaranteed, as shown through the recent cuts. Counties such as Santa Cruz actually cover half of the cost of beach testing in that area, with the federal government contributing only one fourth. Beyond funding, because of the local variability of fecal indicator bacteria concentrations based on region, it may be beneficial to deal with beach testing on a smaller, local scale. One U,S, Geological Survey showed that the current water quality testing in the Great Lakes was too broad and resulted in many unnecessary beach closures, decreasing revenue made from those beaches. Local approaches to beach cleanups can yield more accurate results of bacteria concentration so that beaches are only closed when truly dangerous to human health.
Although federal support of beach testing has been very crucial in many states, the recent EPA cuts do not mean that beach water testing must cease or decrease in quality. As long as states take responsibility of beach testing, the process can develop strongly and efficiently. Without federal enforcement and encouragement, it will be up to the public to fight for beach testing to maintain human health. If people make beach water quality a priority, they can influence and pressure local officials to make it one as well.
Juliana Duran and Judy Fong are undergraduates in the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences.