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Beach advisories could rise after stricter testing

EPA tightens water quality standards

By Brenna Visser

The Daily Astorian

Published on April 21, 2017 12:01AM

The Cannon Beach Public Works Department posted signs to notify beachgoers of a sewage spill in July 2015. The city was fined $1,800 as a result.

Cannon Beach Gazette/File Photo

The Cannon Beach Public Works Department posted signs to notify beachgoers of a sewage spill in July 2015. The city was fined $1,800 as a result.

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Beachgoers on the North Coast could possibly see an increase in the number of beach advisories issued this summer.

Each summer, selected beaches are monitored for bacteria by the Oregon Beach Monitoring Program. But an increase in bacteria readings on the beach won’t necessarily be the cause for the rise in advisories. Rather, a change in national standards may lead to more local alerts.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently tightened the marine recreational water quality standard used to determine if bacteria levels are unsafe for water contact, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

Since the Oregon Beach Monitoring Program started in 2004, standards for measuring bacteria, known as BAV — beach action value — has been 158 mpn, or most probable number, a testing method used to estimate the number of colony forming units of bacteria in water samples.

Starting this summer, that value will drop significantly to 70 mpn, Oregon Public Health Division Program Coordinator Tara Chetock said.

Chetock said the beach monitoring program lowered the value after EPA studies showed stricter standards can help reduce illness as a result of accidental ingestion of bacteria contaminated water.

“It’s important to note that when the EPA is looking at water quality standards, they are also looking at places like Miami and California where the water is warmer and more people are in the water all time,” Chetock said. “The standard was established considering all beaches.”

In general, Chetock said, Oregon beaches are not where people are getting sick, but the change was made in the interest of public health.

Too cold

Most periods of the year, water on the North Coast is usually too cold for swimmers.

According to Surfrider Foundation, an environmental nonprofit that tracks water bacteria, there have been no recent self-reported illnesses on the North Coast.

The Oregon Health Authority’s Beach Monitoring Program is inviting public comment through May 8 on a list of beaches it is proposing to monitor this summer, which currently lists Seaside, Tolovana and Cannon Beach as suggestions. The three beaches have been tested multiple times and rank highly on the list due to the large number of users in the summer, Chetock said.

Sources of contamination to surface waters include wastewater treatment plants, on-site septic systems, domestic and wild animal manure, and storm runoff, according to the EPA.

In July 2015, a sewage leak led to a high spike in bacteria readings in the Ecola Creek Watershed. In general, Cannon Beach has a history of high bacteria test results, especially after rain washes waterways out, said Ryan Cruse, field coordinator for Surfrider’s Blue Water Task Force.

Generally clean

While Surfrider cannot issue advisories like the beach management program, Cruse said based on their data Cannon Beach has maintained generally clean readings since 2015.

With the change in EPA regulations however, Cruse said he could see the number of advisories increasing as well as the amount of testing required.

“If the OBMP is ending up with more advisories, they will have to be doing a lot more testing than in the past because they will need to go back and test as soon as they can after an advisory to evaluate whether or not it needs to be kept,” Cruse said.

He also noted that Surfrider is concerned with national level budget cuts within the EPA, and what affect that will have on research and public health.

“If funding goes away, there will be a lot less information out there to address these issues,” Cruse said.


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