LEARN: EPA’s Role in Protecting Beaches
EPA works in partnership with states, tribes, territories, local governments, and the public to protect beaches.
State, territorial, tribal, and local health and environmental protection agencies
Across the country, these agencies are responsible for monitoring the quality of water at coastal and Great Lakes beaches and posting advisories or closing beaches when fecal indicator bacteria in the water are too high. However, some of these agencies do not have enough resources to monitor all of their beach waters. Contact your agency for more information.
The Beach Advisory and Closing Online Notification system (BEACON)
BEACON is a source of longer-term data about beach water quality. EPA created BEACON to provide the Agency's requirement to provide to the public a database of pollution occurrences for coastal recreation waters. BEACON contains annual state-reported beach monitoring and notification data and is available online.
EPA has several laws that regulate sources water pollution to our coastal beaches. To learn more about these laws, review
- the laws below, and
- our Laws that Protect the Ocean website.
The Clean Water Act
The Clean Water Act establishes the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States and regulating quality standards for surface waters. The BEACH Act requires EPA to recommend water quality criteria that states, territories, and tribes can adopt into their water quality standards for pathogens and pathogen indicators in coastal recreational waters. The BEACH Act also authorizes grants to states, territories, and eligible Tribes to monitor coastal and Great Lakes beaches and to notify the public when water quality standards are exceeded.
- The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act of 2000
The BEACH Act amends the Clean Water Act to better protect public health at our nation's beaches.
Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act (MDRPRA) (PDF) (8 pp, 136 K, About PDF)
The MDRPRA established programs within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the United States Coast Guard (USCG) identify, determine sources of, assess, reduce, and prevent marine debris. MDRPRA also reactivates the Interagency Marine Debris Coordinating Committee, chaired by NOAA.
The Coastal Zone Management Act
The Coastal Zone Management Act is administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM), and provides for management of the nation's coastal resources, including the Great Lakes.
EPA has several programs that regulate sources of water pollution to our coastal beaches. To learn more about these programs, use the links below.
The BEACH Act Program
Following the BEACH Act of 2000, EPA expanded the focus of its efforts to improve the quality of coastal recreation waters and protect the health of beach goers. To meet these goals, EPA is addressing the following objectives:
- Reflect updated science
- Incorporate recommendations from the 2012 Recreational Water Quality Criteria
- Encourage a more comprehensive approach to developing a tiered monitoring and notification system
- Use internet and social media tools for beach notifications and information
Clean Water Act Programs
- The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination (NPDES) permit program
The NPDES program is authorized by the Clean Water Act and controls water pollution by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants into waters of the United States.
- The Pollution Budgeting (TMDL) program
The TMDL program, under section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act, requires states, territories, and authorized tribes to develop lists of impaired waters, establish priority rankings for waters, and develop Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs). TMDLs related to beaches include pathogens, nutrients, and trash.
The Marine Debris Prevention Program
This program aims to reduce marine debris resulting from land-based and ocean-based sources.
EPA plays an important role in enforcing our nation's environmental laws to protect our nation's recreational beaches and the health of those who use them.
EPA’s Clean Water Act compliance monitoring
This program works to protect human health and the environment by ensuring that the regulated community obeys environmental laws and regulations.
EPA’s CWA compliance assistance
This program provides businesses, federal facilities, local governments and tribes with tools to help meet environmental regulatory requirements.
EPA’s water enforcement
This program provides additional information on EPA’s role in cleaning up water pollution.
EPA is developing tools to better measure, identify, and address microbes in recreational waters and to better understand how these pollutants affect people’s health. EPA also creates national standards and criteria (indicators) for pathogens (bacteria/microbes) and works with states, territories, and tribes on adopting protections for their waterbodies.
Technical Resources about Beaches
This website helps state and local officials to monitor beach health and to make decisions about when to restrict access to or close beaches due to unsafe environmental conditions.
Several EPA programs provide grant funding to address clean water at the nation's recreational beaches.
The BEACH Act grants
This program provides grants to states, territories, tribes and local governments to protect beachgoers from contaminated water at coastal beaches including the Great Lakes. Grant funds are used to develop and implement beach monitoring and notification programs.
The Clean Water Act Section 319 grants
This program provides states, territories, and tribes with funding for a wide variety of activities including technical assistance, financial assistance, education, training, technology transfer, demonstration projects and monitoring to assess the success of specific nonpoint source implementation projects.
Federal Assistance Under Section 106 of the Clean Water Act
This program provides federal assistance to states (including territories, the District of Columbia, and Indian Tribes) and interstate agencies to establish and implement ongoing water pollution control programs.
In addition to helping measure pollution in water near beaches, EPA helps states, tribes, territories, and local governments inform people on the threats to beaches and opportunities to protect them.
EPA is improving public access to information about the quality of the water at beaches and health risks associated with swimming in polluted water.