Annual N.J. beach water quality monitoring program gets underway

Monmouth Beach

Monmouth Beach in Monmouth County, New Jersey. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The annual beach water quality monitoring program is underway in New Jersey.

The state conducts water sampling at 188 ocean beaches, 20 bay beaches and eight river beaches weekly to determine the level of enterococcus, a bacteria found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals that can cause urinary tract infections, bacteremia, bacterial endocarditis, diverticulitis and meningitis.

The maximum standard for an acceptable level of enterococcus is 104 colonies per 100 milliliters of water, according to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

Laboratory test results are generally available within 24 hours, and the state issues advisories one day following an unacceptable bacteria level. Beaches are closed if two consecutive samples collected at a bathing beach exceed the state standard and remain in effect until subsequent sampling indicates bacteria levels are again below the standard, according to the DEP.

At four Ocean County beaches known for bacteria problems — Windward in Brick; Avon Road in Pine Beach; Beachwood in Beachwood; and Anglesea in Ocean Gate — the state uses a rapid testing method to quickly determine contaminant levels.

On June 2, an advisory was issued for the Congress Street beach in Cape May, which was then discontinued on June 3. At Beachwood Beach in Beachwood, an advisory was issued on June 9, and continued on June 10 after another water sample exceeded the maximum standard. The beach is not yet open for the season.

State data indicates that the vast majority of swimming advisories are discontinued after retesting, and beaches are rarely closed. Some waterways are typically susceptible to higher bacteria levels after rainfall and associated storm runoff.

Larry Hajna, a NJDEP spokesman, said this season’s monitoring program will follow the same procedures as in the past, adding that there have been no dramatic mitigation efforts employed at beaches that are known to have water quality issues.

New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel, a frequent critic of the state’s environmental policies, has previously said that the state is not doing enough to manage stormwater, control overdevelopment and fix leaky sewer systems.

Closures at New Jersey’s ocean beaches due to water quality standards have been on the decline since the 1990s, according to the NJDEP. In recent years, state beaches were open to bathing 99 percent of the time.

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