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Source: Westchester.com

Polluted Runoff Plagues New York’s Beaches

Posted: August 3, 2009
Originally Published: August 2, 2009

White Plains, NY - American beach-goers are too often greeted by polluted water that threatens public health, as the number of closing and advisory days at ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches exceed 20,000 for the fourth consecutive year, according to the 19th annual beachwater quality report, Testing the Waters, released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Severe storms in 2008 contributed to a significant number of both marine and Great Lakes beach closings, underscoring the connection that as climate change worsens so will New York’s beach days.

“When the rains return,” said Nancy Stoner, NRDC Water Program Co-Director, “so will pollution, forcing beaches to issue more closings and advisory days.”

The U.S. Government found that precipitation increased by 5% over the past 50 years and predicts the Northeast will see continued increases in wet-weather events. This year’s Testing the Waters report documents the threats to New York’s beaches by an increase in stormwater-related closings, exacerbated by New York’s aging and failing sewage infrastructure.

“Stormwater carries everything from litter to oil to human and animal waste,” said Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, “This problem can’t fix itself and will only become worse. Urgent action is needed to address climate change and reinvest in our crumbling sewage infrastructure to protect the public, our beaches and our economy. Inaction allows our precious economic and tourism dollars to run-off with the rain.”

Beachgoers on New York’s Western Shore of the Long Island Sound face a large number of beach closings and contaminated water. These beaches are plagued with levels of bacteria that exceed safe standards and were closed primarily due to stormwater pollution and combined sewage overflows (CSOs). Due to the elevated levels of contamination, from the Southern tip of the Bronx to the border of Connecticut, 17 beaches have been closed a total of 335 days in 2008.

“In these economic times, local residents want to take advantage of the Long Island Sound beaches,” said Matt Wallach, Program Coordinator, Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “With gas prices, tolls, and other travel expenses going through the roof, it is unfair for residents to be forced to see their local beach closed or have them risk bacterial contamination”

New York’s Westchester beaches are fouled by stormwater and bacteria. In 2008, local beaches were closed 110 days. Ten of the 25 beaches were closed 11 days each due to stormwater. These offenders include Beach Point Club, Coveleigh Beach Club, Davenport Club, Echo Bay Yacht Club, Greentree Club, Harbor Island Beach, Hudson Park, Mamaroneck Beach and Cabana Club, Orienta Beach Club, Shore Acres Club

In the Bronx, The Sound Beaches were worse. Stormwater run-off, bacteria, and combined sewer overflows contribute to closings for beaches throughout the borough. The worst offenders in 2008, as reported to the EPA, include:

- Morris Yatch and Beach Club was closed for 35 days due to polluted stormwater and CSOs;
- Manherm Beach Club was closed for 34 days due to polluted stormwater and CSOs; and
- White Cross Fish Club was closed for 34 day polluted stormwater and CSOs.

New York State knows the bad shape of its water infrastructure. The NYS DEC estimated that needed repairs and upgrades require investing more than $36 billion over the next 20 years and the nation’s wastewater infrastructure earned a dismal “D-“ from the American Society of Civil Engineers based upon the billions of gallons of untreated wastewater discharged into surface waters annually. Nationwide, the U.S. EPA estimates that our clean water needs requires a $390 billion investment over the next 20 years.

While the problems are daunting, solutions exist to keep our beaches open and ensure access to clean water. Our municipalities need to take a smart, green, and clean approach to reduce polluted run-off by implementing green infrastructure to capture rain where it falls. Congress must enact sensible policies to protect American’s right to a day at the beach:

- Enact the Clean Coastal Environment and Public Health Act (H.R. 2093/S. 878) to provide funding for municipalities to clean up sources of pollution and implement same-day test results for water quality testing;
- Reauthorize and appropriate increased funding for wastewater infrastructure in the State Revolving Fund (H.R. 1262/ S. 1005);
- Establish a Clean Water Trust Fund (H.R.3202) to provide dedicated fund for Water Protection and Reinvestment to restore our nation’s crumbling water infrastructure; and
- Enact The American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454) to lower carbon emissions, the leading cause of climate change, and provide assistance for local communities to mitigate and adapt climate change.

“Testing the Waters is just the latest documentation of the urgent need to reinvest in our water infrastructure. Public access to clean water and safe beaches is not too much to ask,” said Dereth Glance, Executive Program Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, “Our great beaches are under siege from sewage and polluted run-off, we need local, state, and federal leadership to protect public health and our natural environment and allow Americans to enjoy a day at the beach.”

Access the full report at www.nrdc.org/beaches.