June 27th, 2012
10:00 AM ET

America's cleanest (and dirtiest!) beaches

Just when you thought it was safe to go into the water, the Natural Resources Defense Council has released its annual beach quality report and it’s not pretty.

According to NRDC, a large number of U.S. seashores continue to suffer from storm water runoff and sewage pollution that can cause swimmers to become very ill.

The report, Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches, looks at 2011 data collected from test results taken at more than 3,000 beaches nationwide. It examines the pollution factors that affect these U.S. vacation spots and calls for public efforts to clean up.

The report found that last year the nation’s beach waters continued to be affected by serious contamination and pollutants from human and animal waste. As a result, America’s beaches had the third-highest number of closings or advisories in the report’s history, with the second-highest number occurring just the year before. Progress, according to the report, is not being made.

“Our beaches are plagued by a sobering legacy of water pollution,” said NRDC senior attorney Jon Devine. “Luckily, today more than ever, we know that much of this filth is preventable and we can turn the tide against water pollution. By establishing better beach water quality standards and putting untapped 21st century solutions in place – we can make a day at the beach as carefree as it should be, and safeguard America’s vital tourism economies.”

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than 10 trillion gallons of untreated storm water makes its way into surface waters each year, and hundreds of billions of gallons of wastewater - which includes sewage and storm water - are released in combined sewer overflows. This water dumps into many of America’s coastal areas.

But the NRDC report is not all bleak. It includes a guide that rates the water quality and practices for testing water and administering public notifications at each beach. When a seashore exceeds the NRDC’s expectations, it receives a 5-star rating.

Beaches that rated five stars with last year’s data are:

- California: Newport Beach in Orange County (2 of 3 monitored sections)
- Newport Beach – 38th Street
- Newport Beach – 52nd/53rd Street
- California: Bolsa Chica Beach in Orange County
- California: Huntington State Beach in Orange County
- Alabama: Gulf Shores Public Beach in Baldwin County
- Alabama: Gulf State Park Pavilion in Baldwin County
- Delaware: Dewey Beach in Sussex County
- Maryland: Ocean City at Beach 6 in Worcester County
- Minnesota: Park Point Franklin Park / 13th Street South Beach Park Point in St. Louis County
- Minnesota: Lafayette Community Club Beach in St. Louis County
- New Hampshire: Hampton Beach State Park in Rockingham County
- New Hampshire: Wallis Sands Beach in Rockingham County
- Texas: South Padre Island in Cameron County

The report also noted the top 15 “Repeat Offenders” - beaches that continually have high bacteria counts. These beaches over the last five years have had persistent contamination problems, with water samples violating public health standards more than 25% of the time for each year from 2007 to 2011.

Those beaches are:

- California: Avalon Beach in Los Angeles County (3 of 5 monitored sections):
- Avalon Beach – West of Green Pleasure Pier (50 feet)
- Avalon Beach – West of Green Pleasure Pier (100 feet)
- Avalon Beach – East of Green Pleasure Pier
- California: Doheny State Beach in Orange County (3 of 6 monitored sections):
- Doheny State Beach – North of San Juan Creek
- Doheny State Beach – Surfzone at Outfall
- Doheny State Beach – 1000' South Outfall
- Illinois: Winnetka Elder Park Beach in Cook County
- Illinois: North Point Marina North Beach in Lake County
- Louisiana: Constance Beach in Cameron Parish
- Louisiana: Gulf Breeze in Cameron Parish
- Louisiana: Little Florida in Cameron Parish
- Louisiana: Long Beach in Cameron Parish
- Louisiana: Rutherford Beach in Cameron Parish
- New Jersey: Beachwood Beach West in Ocean County
- New York: Woodlawn Beach – Woodlawn Beach State Park in Erie County
- New York: Ontario Beach in Monroe County
- Ohio: Euclid State Park in Cuyahoga County
- Ohio: Villa Angela State Park in Cuyahoga County
- Wisconsin: South Shore Beach in Milwaukee County

If your favorite beach is not on either of these lists, you can go to the NRDC’s website for more information.  For the first time this year, the NRDC’s report includes a zip code searchable map of more than 3,000 beaches nationwide, making it easier than ever for users to check the water quality of their favorite sandy spot.

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