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The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act) signed into law on October 10, 2000, amends the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), incorporating provisions intended to reduce the risk of illness to users of the Nation's recreational waters. The BEACH Act authorizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to award program development and implementation grants to eligible States, Territories, Tribes, and local governments to support microbiological testing and monitoring of coastal recreation waters, including the Great Lakes, that are adjacent to beaches or similar points of access used by the public. BEACH Act grants also provide support for development and implementation of programs to notify the public of the potential exposure to disease-causing microorganisms in coastal recreation waters. EPA encourages coastal States and Territories to apply for BEACH Act Grants for Program Implementation (referred to as Implementation Grants) to implement effective and comprehensive coastal recreation water monitoring and public notification programs. CWA section 406(i) authorizes appropriations of up to $30 million per year to develop and implement beach programs. Unfortunately, only about one-third that amount has been authorized each year since the program's inception. For fiscal year 2014, the total fund available for BEACH Act grants was $9.55 million. Funding beyond 2012 has been in jeopardy, since EPA's budget requests for this program in FY2013 and FY2014 were ZERO (money for testing in 2013 and 2014 was ultimately allocated as part of Continuing Resolutions to resolve the Federal Budget impasse) and there is also no money for beach testing in the FY2015 budget. It is very discouraging to have to fight for this basic funding to protect the public's health at the beach every year. Thankfully, there is a growing movement to provide stable funding. If available, funds are allocated to the states and territories based on a formula which uses three factors that are readily available and verifiable: (1) Length of beach season, (2) miles of beach and (3) number of people that use the beaches. Louisiana was eligible for a $306,000 grant in fiscal year 2014.
Much of the following discussion is taken from National Resources Defense Council's (NRDC) report Testing the Waters, A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches, June 2014. NRDC's report evaluates beach monitoring data relative to EPA's recommended Beach Action Value (BAV). The BAV is a more protective threshold than the national allowable bacteria levels used in previous years to trigger beach advisories. The EPA considers the BAV to be a "conservative, precautionary tool for making beach notification decisions."
NRDC ranked Louisiana 26th in Beachwater Quality (out of 30 states). 19% of samples exceeded EPA's new BAV standards for designated beach areas in 2013.
While most of Louisiana's coastline consists of wetlands, coastal beaches line nearly 30 miles of Gulf of Mexico and estuarine shoreline, including beaches on the barrier island Grand Isle as well as some near the Texas border and on the shore of the Lake Pontchartrain estuary. The state's coastal monitoring program is administered by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (LDHH).
Louisiana beaches have a wide range of salinity conditions, and most are relatively remote from urban runoff. These factors reduce the direct association between environmental conditions and enterococci densities and make the use of predictive models very difficult. Using data collected between 2004 and 2009, the LDHH Center for Environmental Health Services (CEHS) performed a study to determine how indicator organism density was influenced by environmental factors at Louisiana coastal beaches. Researchers found that environmental factors explained only a small fraction of the total variability in indicator organism density, and thus statistical models of environmental variable-indicator organism relationships were not sufficient to be used as predictive models on which to base precautionary advisories.
In 2011, Louisiana BEACH program managers conducted a similar analysis of data collected during the 2011 monitoring season. Like the 2009 study, the LDHH found the relationship between environmental variables and enterococci density changed from year to year, and that the enterococci density was not explained by differences in environmental variables. Because of the large year-to-year differences in enterococci densities and annual variance within beach segments, and annual differences in the relationship between enterococci density and the environmental variables, the study's authors concluded that developing useful predictive models that go beyond finding a general pattern of environmental conditions that are associated with higher/lower enterococci densities is not possible for Louisiana's more remote beaches. It may be possible to create a reliable predictive model for beaches near urban areas, such as the Lake Charles beaches, when additional monitoring data are available for analysis.
Monitoring is conducted from the beginning of April through the end of October. The LDHH determines sampling practices, locations, standards, and notification protocols and practices at Louisiana beaches monitored through the BEACH Act. Samples are collected 6 to 12 inches below the surface in water approximately 3 feet deep. Levels of beach use and perceptions of water quality determine monitoring priorities. Monitoring frequency does not increase after a beach is placed under advisory unless the contamination source has been identified and corrected, in which case more intensive sampling may be conducted.
The LDHH issues beach advisories based on water quality but does not have the authority to close a beach. Local governments, however, can issue closings. Water quality standards are not met if any of the following are exceeded: an enterococcus single-sample maximum standard of 104 mpn/100 ml, an enterococcus geometric mean of 35 mpn/100 ml for samples taken over a 30-day period, or a fecal coliform geometric mean of 200 mpn/100 ml for samples taken over a 30-day period. Multiple samples are sometimes taken during a sampling event, and when they are, the results are averaged before comparison with the standard. An exceedance of any of these three standards can trigger an advisory. The public is notified about advisories through the LDHH beach advisory website, press releases, and signs posted at the beach.
Other than taking a resample to verify exceedances when results are in doubt, there is no protocol for forgoing an advisory when an exceedance is found. It is noteworthy that the majority of advisories in Louisiana result from an exceedance of the enterococcus geometric mean criterion. Louisiana's percentage of monitored station-weeks that were in compliance is different from that of states using other criteria. If Louisiana issued beach advisories based only on the enterococcus single-sample maximum criterion, as many states do, its noncompliance during 2012 would have been reduced by 64%.
Nine beach closures were issued in 2012 due to Hurricane Isaac, which affected areas on the eastern portion of the state in late August. Impacts varied by beach, with Elmer's Island and Grand Isle Beach closed for 7 days, Grand Isle State Park closed for 25 days, and Fontainebleau State Park closed for 65 days.
The Louisiana Department of Health & Hospitals Beach Monitoring Program website provides health advisory status at 26 monitoring sites from April 1 to October 31.
Beach Monitoring Program Coordinator
Beach Monitoring Program Manager
Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals
In 2013, Louisiana reported 31 coastal beaches, 25 of which were monitored. Of all reported beach monitoring samples, 19% exceeded the Beach Action Value (BAV) of 60 enterococcus bacteria colony forming units (cfu) per 100 ml marine or estuarine water in a single sample. NRDC considers all reported samples individually (without averaging) when calculating the percent exceedance rates in this analysis. This includes duplicate samples and reported samples taken outside the official beach season, if any.
The beaches with the highest percent exceedance rates of the BAV in 2013 were Grand Isle State Park 2 in Jefferson Parish (42%), Cypremort Point State Park in St. Mary Parish (31%), Rutherford Beach in Cameron Parish (27%), Holly Beach 5 in Cameron Parish (26%), and South Beach & Rabbit Island in Calcasieu Parish (25%).
For a bar chart showing a 5-year water quality trend, see NRDC's report.
In June 2013, U.S. EPA released its latest data about beach closings and advisories for the 2012 swimming season. Note that for some states the data is incomplete, making state-to-state or year-to-year comparisons difficult. Here's EPA's BEACH Report for Louisiana's 2012 Swimming Season. EPA no longer publishes this report.
A BEACH Grant Report for the 2011 Swimming Season has been prepared by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. Sampling results are presented in tabular and graphical form for all sampling stations, and the results are evaluated through statistics. Following is selected text from the Executive Summary of that report:
Here's a link to the latest beach monitoring results and a map of the monitoring locations.
An article by Nikki Buskey appearing in dailycomet.com on September 8, 2011 pointed out the problem of drains from private septic systems and perhaps even drains carrying raw sewage in Bayou Terrebonne between Thibodaux and downtown Houma.
An article by Richard Burgess appearing in 2theadvocate.com on November 21, 2007 indicated that for the six-month monitoring period ending October 31, 2007, public health workers from the State Department of Health and Hospitals conducted weekly tests at 13 coastal beaches. The eight monitored beaches in Cameron Parish, including Holly Beach, all remained under advisories against swimming for more than half the summer. Advisories were in effect at Rutherford Beach for all but two weeks from May to October. Long Beach went only four weeks without an advisory during the summer and Little Florida and Gulf Breeze beaches went only five weeks out of the six months without an advisory. By comparison, only three health advisories were issued during the summer for the seven monitored beach areas on Grand Isle, and the popular beach at Cypremort State Park had three weekly advisories for the summer. The causes of the high bacteria counts in Cameron Parish had not been identified and were still under investigation.
No information was found on the location of sewer outfall pipes in Louisiana.
Improper and unpermitted sewer systems from both business and residential property is a big problem in Louisiana. There is a statewide effort by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to identify the sources of pollutants in impaired waterways such as the Vermillion River and Bayou Teche. In just the first two days of DEQ inspections of businesses in rural Acadiana in December 2007, 80 unpermitted facilities were found. A similar sweep in the Bayou Lafourche area revealed 285 facilities without waste discharge permits. In these areas, businesses typically operate small septic systems that send sewage - with varying degrees of treatment - into ditches that ultimately empty into rivers that flow to the ocean.
Nonpoint source pollution is a type of water pollution that is not generated from a discrete conveyance, such as a discharge pipe, but is generated during rainfall events. Section 319 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) required that the states develop a NPS Management Plan to reduce and control nonpoint sources of pollution from the various types of land-uses that contribute to water quality problems across the United States. Some of these categories can also be defined as point source discharges and may require a storm water permit. Louisiana determined that agriculture, forestry, urban runoff, home sewage systems, sand and gravel mining, construction and hydromodification all contribute to nonpoint source pollution problems across the state. Nonpoint source pollution is the largest remaining type of water pollution that needs to be addressed within Louisiana and across the nation in order to restore the designated uses (i.e. fishing and swimming) to the impaired water bodies.
Louisiana’s NPS Program is managed by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ), and is a collaborative effort that includes many partners. Their goal is to educate people about NPS pollution and best management practices (BMPs) that can be implemented to reduce and control this type of pollution. The State of Louisiana has applied for and received Section 319 funds to implement both statewide and watershed projects to address nonpoint source pollution. Summaries of these projects have been included along with an interactive mapping tool to illustrate where the projects are located within the State. More info.
Information on CMD's Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Program can be found at: http://dnr.louisiana.gov/index.cfm?md=pagebuilder&tmp=home&pid=109
The Louisiana Coastal Enhancement Program Assessment and Strategy 2011-2016 stated that water quality issues, especially from nonpoint source pollution, represented a medium cumulative and secondary threat to water bodies in Louisiana.
The Office of State Parks has expressed concern regarding poor water quality restrictions on water-oriented recreation. Although this situation seems to be reversing, the agency is still concerned about sewage treatment, agricultural runoff, industrial waste, and littering affecting public recreational facilities (Office of State Parks 2003).
Hypoxia (low levels of dissolved oxygen in the water) continues to be a threat to the state's coastal ocean resources, with the largest Dead Zone in a decade mapped in 2002. There has also continued to be an increase in coastal development. With that increase comes an increase in possible point and non-point source pollution, contributing to nutrient levels and thus the hypoxic zone in the gulf. Hypoxia continues to push fisheries further and further offshore, increasing the distance commercial fisherman are required to travel, and exposing them to more hazards. The Hypoxia Working Group was formed in 2002 and works to help address this issue.
The Hypoxia Working Group is a subset of the Mississippi River Basin Alliance, Lower Mississippi River Basin. The Alliance is funded by the EPA and works to coordinate response and research throughout the Basin. Though focus primarily is on reducing the nitrogen loads reaching the northern Gulf of Mexico, general improvements in water quality basin-wide are being achieved as well. The Hypoxia Group has been active in providing a forum for the coordination of hypoxia efforts and state policy work. Coordination of this working group is funded by the Louisiana Governor’s Office and the in-kind donations of participants and their various agencies/companies.
The presence of marine debris on Louisiana's beaches and in coastal waters has economic, health and safety, and ecological impacts. Beach visitors find debris-strewn beaches unaesthetic. Scarce tax dollars for must be spent cleaning beaches. Trash fouls cooling intakes. Discarded pipe, equipment, abandoned or lost crab traps, nets, etc. ruin propellers or damage hulls of recreational and commercial vessels.
The people of Louisiana use the LCZ and nearshore waters for recreation year around. In the spring, fishing, boating and are prevalent activities; summer brings camping, swimming, and crabbing to the forefront. Fall and winter find groups fishing and hunting. Commercial fishing and trapping and oil and gas extraction, both onshore and offshore, occur throughout the year. With all of this activity a tremendous amount of trash is generated and often not brought back to land for proper disposal. As a result of much of the garbage being tossed over the side of the boat, marine debris becomes a problem. Marine debris is the litter and trash that accumulates along the beaches and in waterways of the LCZ.
Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, there is a substantial amount of debris strewn throughout the LCZ. As one can imagine, there is a great deal of disaster related debris such as trees and wood, building wreckage, sand, mud, silt and gravel, vehicles, as well as plenty of hazardous material such as toxic, or unknown chemicals that have washed onto beaches and shorelines across the coast. All of these debris types can pose injury to or kill marine life and humans, causing damage to important resources.
In response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, LDNR published a paper on storm debris use in coastal restoration for informational purposes as the State continues to develop a master debris management plan. The paper addresses potential uses of the debris and provides recommendations on what measures could be pursued by LDNR and coastal parishes.
A related program is Louisiana’s Derelict Crab Trap Removal Program. The LDWF is the lead agency for this program, authorized by Act 48 passed in the 2003 Regular Legislative Session. The program designates the beginning and ending dates of the trap closure, geographical area of the trap closure, who may remove the abandoned traps, and the locations for placement of the abandoned traps for disposal. The program was developed to address the negative impacts of abandoned crab traps which include ghost fishing mortality of blue crabs and bycatch; user group conflicts with shrimp fishermen and other water-based user groups; navigational hazards to boaters; and decreased visual aesthetics. The program is volunteer based and made up of organizations, governmental entities, and individuals.
Two trap closures and cleanups took place in 2004, a winter closure in an area of Terrebonne Bay Estuary and a spring closure in Vermilion Bay. The two closures resulted in a total of 6,894 crab traps collected. Four trap closures and clean ups took place in 2005 (Sabine Lake, Terrebonne Bay, Breton Sound, Vermilion Bay), resulting in a total of 4,623 derelict crab traps retrieved.
In September 2009 the Gulf Restoration Network gave Louisiana a grade of F (worst of all the Gulf states) on how well they implement the Clean Water Act and protect their state waters and public health. The Clean Up Your Act report grades the Gulf States on issues such as establishing water quality standards, policies to prevent Dead Zone-causing pollution, public health protection, and facilitating public participation in the policy-making process.
Several Educator's Guides have been produced by COSEE SE, various Sea Grant organizations and others.
In 2004, the Louisiana Sea Grant published the Louisiana Clean Marina Guidebook. The guidebook provides an overview of actions that marine industry professionals can take to protect water and air quality. It is written for managers of full-service marinas. The recommendations contained within, however, are equally applicable to marinas with limited services as well as marine contractors. Marinas that adopt a significant proportion of the best management practices suggested within this guidebook will be eligible to be recognized as a Louisiana Clean Marina.
Programs such as the Barataria National Estuary Program and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation typically have a beach clean-up event annually. In 2004, the Beach Sweep and Inland Waterway Clean-Up event was coordinated by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, Litter Reduction and Public Action program in conjunction with The Ocean Conservancy, other federal and state agencies and private companies with the help of citizens who wanted to be actively involved. During the 2004 Louisiana Beach Sweep and Inland Waterway Cleanup, 2,045 volunteers came to clean up shorelines and waterways. Volunteers covered 72 miles, picking up 68,394 debris items that weighed 56,619 pounds. The 2005 Louisiana Beach Sweep and Inland Waterway Cleanup were cancelled due to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In Louisiana, cigarettes, food wrappers, and plastic beverage bottles accounted for over one quarter of all the debris items collected (LDEQ).
The five U.S. Gulf of Mexico States — Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas — formed the Gulf of Mexico Alliance in 2004 to increase regional collaboration and enhance the ecological and economic health of the Gulf of Mexico region. The Alliance is focused on the following priority areas:
In addition, the Gulf of Mexico Alliance is deeply concerned about the potential environmental impacts of the BP oil spill incident on the Gulf Coast region. Each Gulf state is implementing an emergency response plan, and due to the strong Gulf States alliance, agencies are coordinating to address the uncertain future of the region in the wake of the oil spill. Ongoing activities of the Alliance will support future mitigation actions related to water quality and the habitats impacted by this incident.
EPA has compiled several NPS (Nonpoint Source) Outreach Products that are a selection of television, radio, and print products on nonpoint source pollution that have been developed by various agencies and organizations around the country. They are good examples of outreach in the mass media. Also see What You Can Do.
NOAA, in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, International City/County Management Association and Rhode Island Sea Grant, will be releasing, in August 2009, a first-of-its kind interagency guide that adapts smart growth principles to the unique needs of coastal and waterfront communities. Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities builds on existing smart growth principles to offer 10 coastal and waterfront-specific guidelines that help manage development while balancing environmental, economic, and quality of life issues.
USGS' Great Lakes Beach Science website has a nationwide database that contains greater than 1200 citations for publications directly and indirectly pertaining to recreational water quality intended for access by the general public and scientific community. It is a fully searchable, downloadable bibliography that has been categorized into major study topics.
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