In response to an order from a U.S. District Court and as required by the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act of 2000, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released new recreational water quality criteria for beaches and waters year round. The science-based criteria provide information to help states improve public health protection by addressing a broader range of illness symptoms, better accounting for pollution after heavy rainfall, providing more protective recommendations for coastal waters, encouraging early alerts to beachgoers and promoting rapid water testing. The criteria do not impose any new requirements; instead, they are a tool that states can choose to use in setting their own standards.
The criteria provide states and communities with scientific information that they can use to determine whether water quality is safe for the public and when to issue an advisory or a beach closure. EPA has also provided a variety of other tools to help states evaluate and manage recreational waters.
The new criteria are based on several recent health studies and use a broader definition of illness to recognize that symptoms may occur without a fever, including a number of stomach ailments. EPA also narrowed from 90 days to 30 days the time period over which the results of monitoring samples may be averaged. This shortened time period especially accounts for heavy rainfall that can wash pollution into rivers, lakes or the ocean or cause sewer overflows.
The recommendations include:
- A short-term and long-term measure of bacteria levels that are to be used together to ensure that water quality is properly evaluated.
- Stronger recommendations for coastal water quality so public health is protected similarly in both coastal and fresh waters.
- A new rapid testing method that states can use to determine if water quality is safe within hours of water samples being taken.
- An early-alert approach for states to use to quickly issue swimming advisories for the public.
- Tools that allow states to predict water quality problems and identify sources of pollution, as well as to develop criteria for specific beaches.