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Source: Newsday

Fewer LI beach closures, and here's why

BY JENNIFER SMITH

Posted: July 31, 2009
Originally Published: July 30, 2009

Pollution cast a smaller shadow over Long Island beaches last year than in 2007, according to an advocacy group's annual report on beach water quality.

The report released Wednesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council documented about 7 percent fewer beach closures or advisories that warned against swimming in 2008 for Nassau and Suffolk counties. Many were pre-emptive measures to protect swimmers from bacteria and other contaminants that wash into waters after heavy rains.

Nationwide, no-beach days dropped by nearly 10 percent. The group said the dip was due not to reductions in water pollution, but to drier weather and reduced money for water quality monitoring.

The local 2008 results were announced at a waterfront Manhattan news conference where environmental advocates urged officials to impose stricter controls on storm water and sewage, which carry pathogens that can sicken swimmers. "Federal, state and local governments need to do a better job of cleaning up the pollution that makes our beaches unsafe," said Sarah Chasis, director of NRDC's Oceans Initiative.

In a separate ranking, the report gave Zach's Bay at Jones Beach State Park the lowest rating of 26 popular beaches in the state - one star - for not doing enough to notify the public of water quality violations.

The council awarded up to five stars based on recent and historic water quality, testing frequency and the speed and method of alerting the public to closures and unhealthy bacteria levels.

Last year, two samples from Zach's Bay exceeded public health standards for bacteria, said George Gorman, deputy regional director for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Neither triggered a closure. One was before the swimming season began, and the second occurred on a weekday "when there was no swimming," Gorman said. "We wouldn't notify the public because it was closed anyway."

The report also singled out a handful of local beaches - such as Biltmore Beach in Massapequa and Tanner Park in Copiague - that had frequent closures or bacteria levels that exceeded public health standards.

"Municipalities have not made storm water protection a priority," said Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. Esposito said Long Island should follow New York City's lead and embrace new approaches, such as permeable pavement, which soaks up storm water runoff before it reaches bays and oceans.