Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act of 2000

From Beachapedia

For over 15 years, Congress has appropriated just under $10 million annually for the EPA’s BEACH Grant Program ($9.549 million in 2017) for distribution to 35 coastal states, territories and tribes. More than half of coastal states rely solely on this federal grant to fund their beach water quality monitoring and public notification programs. The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act[1] was signed into federal law on October 10, 2000, amending the Clean Water Act (CWA). The BEACH Act addressed pathogens and pathogen indicators in coastal recreation waters.[2]

The BEACH Act is responsible for vast improvements in beach monitoring programs across the country. Prior to the passage of the BEACH Act, states such as Washington, Oregon, and Wisconsin did not even have state-coordinated beach monitoring programs. Other states improved their already-established monitoring programs with the new federal funding by adding beaches and sampling more frequently. The BEACH Act set national water quality monitoring and reporting standards, creating a uniformity throughout the nation that did not exist prior to its passage.

US beaches receive over 100 million visitors each year, driving coastal tourism and recreation economies valued at $107 billion in 2014. Water pollution threatens both public health and these tourism economies, as over 20,000 beach closure and advisory days are issued every year to protect the bathing public from exposure to bacteria and other illness causing pathogens. Despite this, the annual public health cost of recreating in polluted water is estimated at $2.9 billion nationwide. Without continued federal funding, many states will be forced to eliminate, and others to reduce, their beach protection programs. Children, swimmers and other beach users will be at even further risk of contracting potential waterborne illnesses such as diarrhea, nausea, ear and eye infections, skin rashes and worse.

Significant Provisions

  • The BEACH Act amended the CWA by adding section 303(i), which required states and tribes that have coastal recreation waters to adopt new or revised water quality standards by April 10, 2004, for pathogens and pathogen indicators for which EPA has published criteria under CWA section 304(a). Section 303(i) also directs EPA to promulgate standards for states that fail to establish standards as protective of human health as EPA's published criteria.
  • The Act amended CWA by adding section 104(v) and 304(a), which together require the EPA to conduct studies associated with pathogens and human health and to publish new or revised CWA section 304(a) criteria for pathogens and pathogen indicators based on those studies. Since EPA did not comply with this requirement by the deadline specified in the Act, they were sued by NRDC and others and under a settlement agreement they were required to publish new criteria by Fall 2012. Under section 303(i)(l)(B), states that coastal recreation waters are directed to adopt new or revised water quality standards for all pathogens and pathogen indicators to which the EPA's new or revised section 304(a) criteria are applicable by not later than three years after the EPA's publication of the new or revised section 304(a) criteria.
  • The Act amended the CWA to add section 406, which authorizes the EPA to award grants to states or local governments to develop and implement beach monitoring and assessment programs.
  • The Act also amended part 502 of the CWA to define "coastal recreation waters" as the Great Lakes and marine coastal waters (including coastal estuaries) designated under the CWA section 303(c) for swimming, bathing, surfing, or other water contact activities. "Coastal recreation waters" does not include inland waters or waters upstream of the mouth of a river or stream that has an unimpaired connection with the open sea.

Report to Congress

Section 7 of the BEACH Act required the EPA to publish a report to Congress four years after the enactment and every four years thereafter. The Act required the report to include:

  • Recommendations concerning the need for additional water quality criteria for pathogens and pathogen indicators and other actions that should be taken to improve the quality of coastal recreation waters. (Ch. 3)
  • An evaluation of federal, state, and local efforts to implement the act. (Ch. 4)
  • Recommendations on improvements to methodologies and techniques for monitoring coastal recreational waters. (Ch. 5)

Federal Appropriation for the BEACH Act Program

The BEACH Act was authorized at $30 million, but Congress has never appropriated nearly that much money to administer the program. In 2007, for example, Congress made $9.9 million available to help support states with their local water quality monitoring; and, in 2008, the funding was slashed even further to $9.75 million.[3] The administration's proposed budget for FY2013 was ZERO. Same for 2014. And 2015. Money for testing in 2013, 2014, and 2015 was ultimately allocated as part of Continuing Resolutions to resolve the Federal Budget impasse. In fact, despite Congress rejecting cuts proposed by the administration six times now, the President’s FY 2019 Budget proposes to once again eliminate all federal funding for the EPA Beach Grant program. It is very discouraging to have to fight for this basic funding to protect the public's health at the beach every year.

In 2007, U.S. Representatives Frank Pallone (NJ) and Timothy Bishop (NY), along with U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (NJ) introduced the Beach Protection Act of 2007 to address the chronic under-funding of the BEACH Act by raising the authorized funding level to $60 million. Their bill also would have required the EPA and states to do more to not only monitor water quality, but to take steps toward solving national beach pollution problems. The Beach Protection Act of 2007 would have required the EPA to adopt rapid testing methods to provide water quality data within hours of sampling and force states to issue swimming advisories or beach closures within 24 hours to prevent the public's exposure to pollutants. The Beach Protection Act also sets higher standards for state beach monitoring programs, requiring each state to maintain an online database with water quality information available for each beach, all advisories and closures. The Beach Protection Act would have, additionally, allowed states to use their beach grants to track the source of beach water pollution and to take action to address and solve their water quality problems.[4] Congress never passed the Beach Protection Act.

See this article regarding the Clean Coastal Environment & Public Health Act of 2009, another effort to re-authorize the BEACH Act.


This article is part of a series on Clean Water which looks at various threats to the water quality of our oceans, and the negative impacts polluted waters can have on the environment and human health.

For information about laws, policies, programs and conditions impacting water quality in a specific state, please visit Surfrider's State of the Beach report to find the State Report for that state, and click on the "Water Quality" indicator link.