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EPA Announces Major Grant to Improve Monitoring and Water Quality at Maine Beaches

Release Date: 07/30/2003
Contact Information: Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office, 617-918-1008

BOSTON – At a press conference at Old Orchard Beach today, the New England office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a $257,000 grant to the Maine State Planning Office to improve and expand water quality monitoring and public notification programs at state coastal beaches.

Linda Murphy, director of EPA New England’s Office of Ecosystem Protection, made the announcement at Old Orchard Beach because this beach is one of 30 pilot beaches participating in Maine’s Healthy Coastal Beaches Program, a two-year-old effort to improve monitoring and overall water quality at state beaches.

The EPA funding was made available through EPA’s Clean New England Beaches Initiative, which is making a total of $1.1 million available this summer to the region’s five coastal states.

In Maine last summer, two saltwater beaches in Maine were closed at least one day due to pollution. Both beaches were in Portland. There have been some high bacteria counts this year in Maine due to rainfall in the early summer at Old Orchard Beach and several other beaches when the weather was too cold and rainy for beachgoers.

"We've made progress cleaning our waters across New England, but there are still too many days in the summer when families cannot swim due to poor water quality," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. "Even in Maine, where waters are relatively clean, we must work to eliminate dirty storm runoff and other pollution that leads to unhealthy swimming conditions."

EPA has awarded Maine nearly $600,000 since 2001 to support and expand the state’s beach monitoring programs. The state received $58,675 in EPA funds in 2001 and $259,000 last year to boost its efforts to monitor and clean local beaches, while keeping the public informed about beach pollution and monitoring. The money goes to Maine’s Healthy Coastal Beaches Program which began in 2002 with nine pilot beaches and expanded to include 30 this summer. By next year, the state hopes to be working with 46 beaches.

“This EPA funding will be enormously helpful in expanding our efforts to improve monitoring and public notification and education about water quality at state coastal beaches,” said Esperanza Stancioff, coordinator of Maine’s Healthy Coastal Beaches Program. “We are fortunate in Maine to have the complete support and collaboration of the towns and state parks, making this new coastal program a reality in support of public health.”

The Healthy Coastal Beaches Program, coordinated by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service and Sea Grant in collaboration with a statewide advisory committee, aims to develop a standardized monitoring program, regional laboratories and education and outreach materials to keep the public informed about water quality issues at state beaches.

In Maine, the only pollution-related beach closings last summer were at East End Beach in Portland and Willard Beach in South Portland. (A closure day is a day when a beach is either closed or posted with a warning sign due to pollution.) In 2000, there were 21 coastal beach closure days, in 2001 there were 16 coastal beach closure days and last year the number went down to five days. Some of that drop is attributed to the dry weather in 2002.

EPA has made a total of $10 million available this year to help 35 states and territories improve water quality monitoring at beaches and public notification about pollution problems. The funding was made possible by the Federal Beach Act approved by Congress in 2000.

Launched last summer, EPA’s Clean New England Beaches Initiative selected 11 flagship beaches across New England, including Ferry Beach State Park in Saco and Wells Beach. These beaches were chosen as models for other beach managers and based on several criteria: serving large populations, a history of beach closures due to pollution; a high quality of monitoring already in place and a strong potential for state and federal resources to be well used.

Twenty percent of the New England coastal beaches that reported water quality data to EPA - 72 of 363 beaches – were closed or posted with warning signs at least one day last summer because of pollution. These 72 beaches had a total of 650 beach closure days. Last summer's results are a dramatic improvement from 2001 when 102 beaches – out of the 324 beaches reporting – had at least one closure day and a total of 1,388 beach closure days.

Polluted runoff and untreated sewage released into the water can contain bacteria, viruses and protozoans, some of which can cause minor illnesses such as gastroenteritis or more serious diseases such as hepatitis. Runoff can be contaminated from pet waste, wildlife, illicit connections and various other sources. Sources of sewage include leaking sewer pipes, failing septic systems, boats, and combined sewer overflows.