The last thing you want to do when you hit the waves this summer is contract stomach flu or hepatitis, from swimming in contaminated water. To guide summertime beachgoers, the Natural Resources Defense Council just announced its annual ranking of water quality in 30 states.
Area swimmers are in luck: some of the most popular and consistently clean beaches in the country are in New Jersey. The state is home to seven of the 35 beaches the NRDC dubbed “superstars,” and ranked third overall. Neighboring Delaware topped the state list.
The rankings were based on estimates of the amount of bacteria in water samples taken throughout 2013 relative to the Environmental Protection Agency’s most protective benchmark, known as the Beach Action Value (BAV). On average, 10 percent of all beaches had bacterial levels above the threshold. Delaware and New Jersey both had only 3 percent.
Johanna Dyer, an attorney with the NRDC’s water program, said that part of that success is thanks to geography.
“Many of New Jersey’s beaches are on the open ocean, so pollutants are flushed away more quickly than other places, like lakes or behind barrier islands,” she said.
In contrast, the Great Lakes region fared much worse, with Ohio ranking last of all analyzed states, with 35 percent of its beaches above the BAV.
One notable exception to the positive scorers in the area was Beachwood Beach West in Ocean County, New Jersey which was listed as a repeat offender.
NRDC Water Program Director Steve Fleischli said a common problem is stormwater runoff.
“The water often includes trash, chemicals, oil, animal and human waste, as well as bacteria and viruses,” he said. “It really is all of our urban slobber flowing untreated into local waterways.”
To protect yourself, Fleischli suggests paying attention to posted signs with swim advisories, and staying away from flowing drains, which carry stormwater and often pollution.
“If there’s a pipe dumping out on the beach, sometimes parents like their kids to play right around there because the water’s warmer and maybe there isn’t the surf zone,” he said. “But really, that’s where the most pollution typically is.”
Chief of New Jersey’s Marine Water Monitoring Bureau, Bruce Friedman, said those stormwater drains are likely behind some of the problems at Beachwood Beach West.
“What it primarily stems from is the location of two outfall pipes — one that drains the borough stormwater system, and one that drains the county stormwater system,” he said. “Those outfalls discharge directly onto Beachwood Beach. That’s not the best scenario for a bathing beach.”
The good news, Friedman said, is that those pipes are scheduled to be moved in the fall.
The status of any New Jersey beach can be checked online in realtime through a new tool created by the state’s Department of Environmental Proteciton.