State of the Beach/Model Programs/Surf Zone Water Quality

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Surf Zone Water Quality

Below, examples pertaining to water quality follow an outline of the Surfrider Foundation's goals in this area.

Water Quality Goals


  • Uniform statewide ocean water quality standards.
  • At minimum, uniform monitoring that measures for total coliform, fecal coliform, and enterococcus (bacteriological indicators) on a daily basis, and ideally a real time response (i.e. accurate and up to date reporting and posting of beach closure data).
  • A uniform monitoring program that measures for toxins, heavy metals, viruses, and other harmful pollutants.
  • Regular reporting on water quality history, including analysis of patterns and trends.
  • Public education about actions that affect water quality.

Sewage Treatment

  • At a minimum, sufficient treatment to permit beneficial reuse of all sewage effluent, and ideally no dumping of sewage into the ocean.
  • An accurate and up to date inventory of sewer outfalls.

Urban/Agricultural Runoff

  • Pollution-free stormwater runoff.
  • Pollution-free agricultural/forest runoff.
  • An accurate and up to date inventory of storm drains.

Program Examples


Increasing concern about beachwater quality prompted the approval of Assembly Bill 411 (AB411, the Right To Know Bill), which was sponsored by Assemblyman Howard Wayne. The bill amends the Health and Safety Code of the State of California, which requires the State Department of Health Services to develop statewide beachwater-quality criteria and monitoring regulations. Weekly monitoring is required from April to October at all beaches with more than 50,000 annual visitors or at beaches located in areas adjacent to storm drains that flow during the summer. Weekly monitoring actually began in July 1999, and has been conducted again between April and October of each subsequent year. Some counties continue testing year round. Weekly samples must be tested for three indicator organisms: total coliform, fecal coliform, and enterococcus. Beaches that fail to meet the state's criteria for any one of the three indicators are to be posted with conspicuous warning signs to notify the public of health risks associated with swimming in these areas. The amendment also requires the establishment of a 24-hour telephone hotline to let beachgoers know daily which beaches are polluted. In addition to regular monitoring, Los Angeles, Monterey (initiated in 2000), Orange, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz Counties issue rainfall advisories.

On the legislative front, AB 1946, written by Assemblyman Howard Wayne, was approved in 2000. AB 1946 is a follow-on bill to AB 411, and it improves upon data collection requirements and public disclosure standards. The bill took effect on January 1, 2001, and it will allow the state to collect better information on the type of action taken when beach testing uncovers pollution (i.e., advisories or closures) as well as the specific source of the problem. Reports collected by the state pursuant to AB 1946 are now available on the State Water Resources Control Board's website.

The key agency responsible for water quality in California is the State Water Resources Control Board. The Board's mission is to preserve, enhance and restore the quality of California's water resources, and ensure their proper allocation and efficient use for the benefit of present and future generations. Their website is easy to navigate and provides a vast amount of information regarding the regulations and policies for the state's surface and ground waters. There are also links to the nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards. The state and regional water quality control boards can answer general questions about water quality. For questions specific to your area, your local water quality agency (typically the county health department that tests the beaches and notifies the public regarding postings and closures)can provide the most accurate information.

Assembly Bill 1946 was noted above. It requires the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to post monthly beach data from coastal counties throughout the state. The surveys list beach warnings, beach closures, and rain advisories resulting from bacterial contamination. At the end of each month, surveys are updated to reflect the most current monthly health information, which is collected from county health officers. At the end of June, the Board then compiles all data into an annual report. These monthly and annual reports are posted in Adobe Acrobat format on the SWRCB Beach Surveys, Closures, and Rain Advisories website.

AB411 requires that a conspicuous warning sign be posted at beaches when a single weekly sample shows that any of three indicator organisms are present above state standards. Closings and advisories are issued on a discretionary basis.

County Health Departments maintain their own beach monitoring websites. Here are the ones for Los Angeles County and Orange County.


Connecticut has a comprehensive monitoring program for its coastal waters. Standards and guidelines are set by the state, which also analyzes the samples and monitors the four coastal state parks on Long Island Sound. At least 18 municipalities in the state's four coastal counties monitor their own beaches, following the ocean and bay beachwater-quality monitoring protocol established by the Connecticut Department of Health Services (DOHS) and the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Costs to municipalities are low because the DOHS tests samples free of charge at its lab in Hartford.

The state's guidelines call for annual sanitary surveys and inspections by local health departments and recommend weekly sampling of bathing areas. When a single sample result exceeds the standards for bathing water quality, a resample is taken and a survey conducted to determine if raw or partially treated sewage is contributing to the elevated bacteria count. A number of municipalities have adopted a rainfall threshold. When this threshold is reached, beaches are automatically closed until test results indicate there is no bacterial violation. Fairfield and New Haven Counties report at least one type of preemptive standard.

The CDEP samples and monitors four public beaches on Long Island Sound. There are 24 coastal municipalities in Connecticut that conduct monitoring for their coastal waters, encompassing a total of approximately 125 bathing areas (beaches). Monitoring results and beach closure data from these municipalities are reported on a voluntary basis to the DEP and the NRDC. Information on the status of municipal and private beach must be obtained by contacting the municipal or regional health department within whose jurisdiction the beach is located.

The CDEP's State Swimming Area Water quality report lists parks with swimming areas and beaches that they test. Samples are collected weekly by staff from CDEP's Water Management Bureau - Planning and Standards Division, and are analyzed at a Department of Public Health lab. Local health departments are responsible for routinely sampling their beaches and swimming areas. For information on closures at these municipal swimming areas contact the local public health agency. The status of these areas can also be checked by calling (860) 424-3015 or by visiting CDEP's website.


New Jersey was the first state to have a statewide mandatory beach protection program that includes a bacteria standard, a testing protocol, and mandatory closure requirements whenever the bacteria standard is exceeded. Since 1986, the New Jersey Department of Health, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the county health departments of all four Atlantic coastal counties as well as Middlesex County, and seven local environmental health agencies have jointly run the Cooperative Coastal Monitoring Program, sampling 225 ocean and bay sites each week.

When routine monitoring shows bacterial concentrations above state standards, resampling and testing is required. When consecutive samples exceed the standard, beaches must be closed until a sample is obtained that is within the standard. When high bacteria concentrations are recorded at an ocean station, the sampling is extended linearly along the beach to determine the extent of the problem and the pollution source. This may result in an extension of the beach closing to contiguous lifeguarded beaches.

In addition to regular beachwater monitoring for bacterial concentrations, New Jersey officials also monitor using aerial surveillance to look for illegal discharges or other visible water-quality problems. Furthermore, to determine what conditions exist at the time of the standard's exceedance, sanitary surveys are conducted each time a high bacteria level is recorded. Preemptive closings/advisories based on threshold levels of rainfall have been adopted by one recreational bay beach, L Street Beach at the Shark River in Belmar. According to the DEP, this policy could be adopted at any beach at the discretion of the public health officer with sufficient documentation of the relationship of rainfall to ambient bacteria concentrations.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection administers the Cooperative Coastal Monitoring Program with the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services and local environmental health agencies. Recreational beach water quality monitoring is performed routinely on Mondays and throughout the week as necessary at approximately 184 ocean monitoring stations. Here's their Ocean Beach Information website.

The NJ Department of Health, Department of Environmental Protection, and local environmental health agencies jointly run the Cooperative Coastal Monitoring Program. New Jersey's Cooperative Coastal Monitoring Program incorporates measuring water quality and doing aerial surveys to determine if there are any illegal discharges in coastal waters or any visible water quality problems, such as algal blooms or malfunctioning sewer lines or pumping stations. There are 180 water-quality testing locations that coincide with recreational beaches along the state's 127 miles of oceanfront, and another 130 monitoring stations at bay beaches.

Every Monday from May to September, water samples are taken and tested for fecal coliform. Results are received within 24 hours, and if the results are above 200 colony forming units, or CFU, per 100 milliliters, the site is re-sampled. If the second test results are high, the beach is automatically closed. Four beaches (East Tuna Way/Chadwick Beach, Fielder Avenue - Ortley Beach, North Beach - Ortley Beach, and Shelter Island) are monitored daily. In addition to resampling, a sanitary survey is performed to look for visual signs of contamination or the pollution source. Health officials have the discretion to close a beach on one sample or no samples, using their professional judgment, but it is mandatory when samples are bad consecutively that the beach be dosed.

New Jersey law mandates that beaches be closed whenever the bacteria standard is exceeded. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, a beach information line is in service: (800) 648-SAND. Signs are also posted at beaches.


Oregon's Beach Monitoring Program (OBMP) began on a limited scale in October 2002. The program commenced on a larger scale in June 2003 and was conducted throughout the remainder of the year. Oregon's Department of Human Services, Environmental Health Division operates the program. The program is run by The Department of Environmental Toxicology Section Beach Monitoring Program and The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The website that describes the program, the beaches tested, and the testing results has recently been updated.

Beach water quality monitoring results (and much more coastline information) are also obtainable through the Oregon Coastal Atlas website.