EPA Awards Over $10 Million in Grants for Beach Water Quality Monitoring
In May 2023, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded $10.6 million in grants for beach water quality monitoring and notifications about the risk of waterborne diseases at the nation's beaches, as required by the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coast Health (BEACH) Act. The grants support state and local health and environmental protection agencies that test water and post warnings or close beaches if pathogen levels are too high. Water quality test laboratories can help beach managers make timely decisions on alerts and closures by offering rapid, effective testing and ensuring safe recreational water for their community.
"The EPA is providing states and communities with the tools to ensure the safety of the water at our nation's beaches, which are an integral part of our tourism economy and important ecosystems for wildlife and migratory birds," said Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Here's a closer look at the BEACH Act, grant allocations, state programs, guidance for monitoring and notifications, and reporting.
Protecting Communities Against Waterborne Disease
The BEACH Act, signed in 2000, amended the Clean Water Act. The legislation charged the EPA with developing a program to help state and local environmental and public health officials reduce the risk of waterborne disease at beaches. Since then, states, tribes, and territories have made significant progress in ensuring the nation's beaches are safe for recreational users.
Without monitoring and notifications, a carefree day at the beach could be ruined by a skin rash, eye infection, or episode of diarrhea or vomiting. Acute gastrointestinal illness is the most common health threat linked to contaminated water, but bacterial exposure can also cause a multitude of other diseases—including salmonellosis, leptospirosis, hepatitis, shigellosis, and giardiasis.
The Grant Allocation Process
Since 2001, the EPA has awarded more than $216 million in grants under the BEACH Act. Thirty states, five territories, and four tribes are eligible.
For grants totaling under $10 million, the allocation to each depends on:
- The length of the beach season.
- The number of miles of shoreline.
- The populations of coastal counties.
When the grants exceed $10 million, the number of miles of beaches and beach use are considered.
Based on these formulas, it's no surprise that Florida and California received the largest amount of funds in 2023, with $547,000 and $536,000, respectively, followed by Texas, Louisiana, New York, Puerto Rico, and North Carolina. The state of Alaska and tribes there, along Lake Superior, and in Washington, receive the least amount of funding.
A State Approach to Public Health
North Carolina provides a good example of how a state monitoring and notification program works. Their beach season runs from April 1 to October 31. During that period, testing may occur as often as once a week. The Department of Environmental Quality issues alerts and advisories, but only state and county health directors can close water bodies, which usually occurs after a wastewater spill or hurricane.
The standards for excessive bacterial counts depend on the beach tier—Tier 1 for ocean beaches that are used daily for swimming, Tier 2 for beaches on intracoastal waterways that are used three days a week, and Tier 3 for barrier island beaches accessed for four days a month.
Monitoring Guidance and Reporting
In 2014, the EPA updated the National Beach Guidance and Required Performance Criteria for Grants that state and local governments must meet to receive grants. The goal was to make recreational waters safer.
The document provides comprehensive information on pathogens, fecal indicators and water quality criteria, grants and required performance criteria, risk-based beach evaluation and classification, beach monitoring plans and methods, and public notification and risk communication.
The EPA also updates the reporting requirements for BEACH Act grants every three years. As a condition of receiving grants, recipients must collect and submit data on location, monitoring, and notification each year.
Although some state and local governments rely solely on EPA grants to fund their coastal water monitoring and public notification programs, nonprofits are major contributors to many others. The programs fill the gaps due to agencies' limited resources. Water quality test laboratories are often part of those programs as well, helping to identify and solve beach and coastal water issues.