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E-M:/ News Release: Michigan Beach Closings Rise


Thursday, July 28, 2005

CONTACTS:  Cyndi Roper, Clean Water Action, 517-490-1394
Mike Shriberg, PIRGIM, 734-904-7015
Elliot Negin, NRDC, 202-289-2405

Contamination Forces More Michigan Beach Closings
Monitoring Uncovers Dangerous Bacteria in More Places, More Often
Better Pollution Prevention Needed to Get Swimmers Back in the Water


LANSING, MI -- Beach closings due to hazardous bacterial contamination are on the rise at Michigan beaches, according to an annual report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The report tallied 255 closing and health advisory days in 2004, a 175 percent jump from 93 the previous year. All of last year’s closing days were prompted by unsafe levels of bacteria in the water, indicating the presence of human or animal waste.  Michigan’s closings were the fifth highest recorded in the national report among the states.  Across the Great Lakes, beach closings and advisories increased to 2,980 days, a 61% increased from 2003.

 “Instead of closing our beaches, let’s clean up the water,” said Cyndi Roper, Great Lakes Policy Director for Clean Water Action.   “Authorities have gotten better at finding problems. Now they need to stop the pollution at its source by repairing and replacing leaky sewage and septic systems, and cleaning up contaminated runoff.”

 In 2002, Michigan voters approved a $1 billion Clean Water Bond and the funding was to increase the pace of sewer repairs and upgrades.

  “Unfortunately, lawmakers have slashed state funding for enforcement so communities are not stepping up to the plate to fix the problem on their own, which jeopardizes drinking water sources, bathing beaches and other recreational areas,” Roper said.

 Nationally, NRDC’s report found nearly 20,000 closing and advisory days in 2004. That’s the most since NRDC began tracking the problem 15 years ago. One reason, the group says, is that improved monitoring spurred by previous reports is now uncovering the true extent of the pollution problem.

 Citizens not only have a right to know when water is being polluted, they have an even more basic right to clean water,” said Mike Shriberg, State Director of PIRGIM (Public Interest Research Group in Michigan).  “Preventing beach closings by stopping pollution requires political will, citizen activation, funding, and creative thinking.” 

 The report, “Testing the Waters,” which covers ocean, coastal bay and Great Lakes beaches, is available at www.nrdc.org/water/oceans/ttw/titinx.asp. (Another national organization, Surfrider Foundation, released its 2005 “State of the Beach” report today, which provides information on beach ecology, access, erosion and water quality, including material from NRDC’s report and other sources. The report can be viewed at www.surfrider.org/stateofthebeach.)

 States with the biggest jump in closing and advisory days over 2003 were Texas (1,074 percent), Washington (700 percent), Maryland (405 percent), Minnesota (333 percent), Michigan (174 percent), New York (117 percent) and Illinois (102 percent). Hawaii went from no closing or advisory days in 2003 to 1,169 in 2004; Maine went from none in 2003 to 56 in 2004. Nationally the number jumped 9 percent, from 18,224 days in 2003 to 19,950 days in 2004.

 “This is a nationwide problem that demands a nationwide solution,” said Nancy Stoner, director of NRDC’s Clean Water Project. “We need stronger enforcement for those who aren’t doing their share, and we need more federal help for local communities to control runoff and update their aging sewage systems. Just this week, Congress cut the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, the main federal support for water infrastructure. We’re going backward.” (For more information on the state revolving fund’s status, go to http://www.nrdc.org/media/pressreleases/050727a.asp.)

 Eighty-five percent of the closing and advisory days nationally were triggered by dangerously high bacteria levels. The main culprits are improperly treated sewage and bacteria-contaminated stormwater runoff. The bacteria cause a wide range of diseases, including gastroenteritis; dysentery; hepatitis; ear, nose and throat problems; and respiratory ailments. Consequences are worse for children, the elderly, pregnant women, and anyone with a weakened immune system.

Polluted beachwater not only poses a threat to public health, it can hurt local businesses. Ocean-related economic activity alone contributed more than $200 billion to the U.S. economy in 2000, and coastal tourism and recreation are two of the fastest growing businesses in the country, according to the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. In Michigan, coastal tourism generated $16 billion and 182,000 jobs in 2004.  But Michigan “beachanomics” would be even more robust if communities were not forced to close their beaches because of pollution. For example, one study cited in NRDC’s report estimated that closing a beach on Lake Michigan could result in economic losses of as much as $37,000 per day.

 Reasons for the nationwide jump in closings and advisories last year include:

  • the continuing failure of most municipalities to identify and clean up pollution sources;
  • more frequent monitoring, prompted at least in part by earlier NRDC reports;
  • heavier than average rainfall in some states, which flushed more pollution into local waterways;
  • implementation of the federal Beaches Environmental Assessment, Closure and Health (BEACH) Act, which passed in 2000 and went into effect in early 2004. The law requires all coastal and Great Lakes states and U.S. territories to adopt the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended bacterial standards, provides grants for monitoring and public notification programs, and requires the EPA to make beachwater quality data easily accessible.


Beach Buddies and Beach Bums

NRDC’s report identifies the best and worst performers when it comes to protecting beachgoers from contaminated water. NRDC named its annual Beach Buddies—jurisdictions that monitor beachwater quality regularly, close beaches or notify the public when at least one of EPA’s health standards is exceeded, and take significant steps to reduce pollution. This year’s Beach Buddies are:

·         the city of Los Angeles;

·         Scarborough State Beach, Rhode Island (between Narragansett and Point Judith); and

·         Door County, Wisconsin (northeast of Green Bay).

The annual list of Beach Bums—communities that do not monitor pollution and warn the public when beachwater is unsafe, or fail to control sources of pollution—include:

·         Van Buren County, Michigan (west of Kalamazoo on Lake Michigan);

·         Los Angeles County and 44 cities in the county, including Beverly Hills, Claremont, Pomona and Whittier (see http://www.nrdc.org/media/docs/050728.pdf for the complete list); and

·         Atlantic Beach, North Carolina (south of Morehead City).

 “These two groups represent the best and worst in water quality and health safeguards for beachgoers,” said Mark Dorfman, the author of the NRDC report. “They are case studies in what, and what not, to do to protect the 180 million Americans who come out to enjoy the beaches each year.”

 In Van Buren County, two out of the four beaches have stopped testing the water altogether.  This situation leaves swimmers wide open to contamination.

 ‘Testing the Waters 2005’ Recommendations

The report calls on Congress to fully fund the BEACH Act and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, the principal source of federal support for water infrastructure. The report also urges the Environmental Protection Agency to tighten controls on sewer overflows and stormwater discharges, ensure that states and localities monitor water quality and notify the public when it does not meet bacterial standards, and set standards to protect the public from waterborne pathogens.

 At the state and local level, “Testing the Waters” recommends governments adopt rigorous monitoring and beach closure programs, identify pollution sources, and get to work cleaning them up. In addition, authorities should issue advisories when heavy rainfall causes bacteria levels to jump, and when sewer overflows or other similar problems jeopardize beachwater safety.

 For the Great Lakes, the report recommends pressing Congress to implement the recommendations of the recently released draft report of the Great Lakes Regional Collaborative.  These recommendations include appropriating $7.5 billion in federal grants for wastewater infrastructure improvements.  The Collaborative was created by a Bush Administration Executive Order and its draft report is currently in a public comment period.

Citizens also can do a number of things to improve beachwater quality, including capturing runoff from roofs and driveways; maintaining septic systems; picking up pet waste; avoiding chemical fertilizers and pesticides on lawns and gardens; and supporting legislation and funding to keep beachwater clean, fix aging sewer systems, and protect wetlands and coastal vegetation.



Clean Water Action is a national citizens' organization working for clean, safe and affordable water, prevention of health-threatening pollution, creation of environmentally-safe jobs and businesses, and empowerment of people to make democracy work.  Clean Water Action has 144,000 Michigan members and offices in Clinton Township in Macomb County, Ann Arbor, East Lansing and Grand Rapids. 

 PIRGIM is a non-profit, non-partisan statewide public interest organization, focusing on environmental and consumer protection.


David Holtz
Michigan Director
Clean Water Action
Clean Water Fund
517-203-0754 East Lansing
313-300-4454 cell