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“How’s the water?”

Posted by Jody on August 14, 2012

How often is your cherished shoreline monitored for dangerous bacteria?  Do you know how to find out the results of your beach’s latest water quality testing? Does your favorite stretch of coast suffer from water quality advisories and beach closures?

Beach water quality is often a concern for beach going vacationers and locals, alike. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, “Most beach closings are issued because beachwater monitoring detects unsafe levels of bacteria. These unsafe levels indicate the presence of pathogens—microscopic organisms from human and animal waste that pose a threat to human health. The key reported contributors of these contaminants are (1) stormwater runoff, (2) sewage overflows and inadequately treated sewage, (3) agricultural runoff, and (4) other sources, such as beachgoers themselves, wildlife, septic systems, and boating waste.”

Ask the lifeguard about beach safety issues.

Here are a few pointers you can use for your own peace of mind, along with your family’s health and well being, on your next outing to the lakeside or seashore:

1) Ask a lifeguard

It’s always a great idea to check with a lifeguard when you reach the beach.  They can give you the most up-to-date information on current surf conditions, safety issues and beach water quality.  Lifeguards are knowledgeable and helpful resources.

Lifeguard stand displaying yellow beach warning flag. Galveston Island, Texas

2) Check for the flag warning system

Larger beaches and beach districts have flag warning systems in place.  Look for the colored flags flying on the beach and at the lifeguard stations. Beach warning flag systems are not the same in all regions of the USA (and world). Uniformity can be found on Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf Coast beaches.  Chicago, Illinois has a simple three flag method designated by the Chicago Park District.

Beach Flag Warning System, Galveston Island, Texas – Note that the orange triangular flag is used for water quality concerns on Galveston Island.

3) Look for beach advisory signs

Beach advisory signs are often located at beach entry points and at various points along the sands.  Look for them and heed their warnings.

Louisiana Gulf Coast Beach Water Quality Advisory Sign

4) Check online before you head to the beach

Checking online for beach water quality is pretty easy.  For instance, I just searched “Chicago beach water quality” and found the Chicago (Illinois) Park District Beach Report page.  This page reveals a daily water quality guide. Chicago’s Beach Report web page also gives phone numbers for access to the most up-to-the-minute advisories and information.

Here are a few more of the helpful beach water quality monitoring websites I found simply by searching for the area by “(name of beach)”  and “beach water quality”:

Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM)  Coastal Alabama Beach Monitoring Program

County of San Diego (California) Department of Environmental Health  Beach and Bay

Tampa Bay (Florida) Water Atlas Florida Healthy Beaches Program

Georgia Department of Natural Resources (Coastal Resources Division)  Beach Swimming Advisories

New York City (New York) Area Beaches  Beach Quality and Safety

Oregon Health Authority Current Beach Conditions

Virginia Department of Health  Beach Monitoring

More helpful links:

The Natural Resources Defense Council site is packed with information that explains water quality concerns in detail, along with monitoring and testing facts. They have a five-star rating system highlighting 200 popular beaches across the United States.

United States Environmental Protection Agency Beach Monitoring and Notification page / Find your beach.

What do you think? Do you know of a helpful beach water quality monitoring site?  We’d appreciate it if you’d share your beach’s  info in the comment box below.

Have a safe and fun filled day at the beach!

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4 Responses to ““How’s the water?””

  1. Ruth said

    Today we had a news item in England where people are swimming in a beautiful lake ‘But the lagoon is only blue thanks to chemical pollution, the water hides the rusty wrecks of abandoned cars – and the ‘beach’ is limestone chippings, covered in old tin cans’.

    “A recent water test registered it as being only slightly below bleach,” said the area’s county councillor.

  2. This is such a serious problem. Thank you for drawing attention to it!

    • Jody said

      Thanks so much, Cindy! We’re big fans of checking on the water conditions before we head to the beach, but we still check in with the lifeguard just in case there’s an update (or something we missed).

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