U.S. budget plan puts shore water-testing funds in doubt

    Programs that monitor beach water quality along the New Jersey and Delaware shore may be in jeopardy next summer due to proposed federal budget cuts.

    This summer, New Jersey will use nearly half a million dollars in federal funds to test water quality at more than 200 ocean and bay locations.

    Tim Dillingham, with the American Littoral Society, said testing for bacteria helps keep surfers and swimmers from getting swimmer’s ear and other illnesses.

    “If we cut this funding out, unfortunately folks are going to be taking much bigger risks when they go in the water” next year, Dillingham said.

    President Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 cuts out the $9.9 million previously dedicated to water-quality testing at recreational areas originally allocated under the 2000 BEACH Act.

    The administration said states have the technical expertise to continue to run the well-established programs without federal aid.

    Larry Ragonese, with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, said it is early yet to speculate how the state will react if the proposed cuts go through. However, if state funds are not found to replace the full amount of lost federal money, water sampling may be done less frequently.

    “People sometimes complain about government, how it uses money, how it wastes money. Here’s a case of how a relatively small investment … makes a big difference,” Ragonese said. “We would encourage the federal government to continue doing this.”

    In the 2011 season, 116 ocean and bay beaches were closed in New Jersey. Only 11 were closed after tests showed high bacteria levels. The rest were precautionary closures, mostly for when big storms clouded water quality with lots of runoff.

    The state of Delaware also receives BEACH Act money — about a quarter of a million dollars for the upcoming year — as does Erie County, Pennsylvania.

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