Cleaner Beaches, Record Closings
New Program “Save Our Shores” Promises Funding Including Beach Erosion Study
By Nicole Pressly Wolf

Due to the record number of beach closings nationwide from bacterial contamination this year, New York officials and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) created a four-part plan to protect Long Island beaches.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy and Babylon Town Supervisor Steve Bellone, together with the NRDC created “Save Our Shores,” a $2.45 billion program designed to protect LI beaches, reduce pollution and clean up the Long Island Sound.

Of the 20,000 closings nationwide in 2005, 800 were closings in New York State, according to Lisa Speer, director of the Water and Oceans program of the NRDC.

Although the number increased nationally, New York State total closings/advisory days decreased 41 percent to 887 in 2005 from 1,503 in 2004. According to the NRDC report, the primary reason was the relatively dry summer of 2005 compared with 2004. Fire Island had one beach closing last year, the bay beach in July.

From July 7-14 of last year, Ocean Beach’s bay beach was closed for a week due to high bacteria count. According to Robert Waters of the Suffolk County Health Department, the agency which monitors beachwaters, the high bacteria count was traced to the sewage plant on Surfview Walk, and they subsequently inspected the plant. Now the plant is monitored closely for higher levels of bacteria in the surrounding bay water.

In 2006, again the only positive sample from Fire Island came from Ocean Beach’s bay beach in early June. Procedure in Suffolk County is to resample before taking action. A week later, on June 11, the sample was clean, so no action was taken. Fire Island is considered a low risk level. The bay beaches are medium-low risk and ocean low-low, according to Waters.

Save Our Shores Plan

The four points of the plan include:

Funding for the Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation Study. The study would allow research groups and government officials to create a long-term plan to protect coastal areas along the 83 miles of ocean and bay shorelines from Fire Island Inlet to Montauk Point. Clinton is working to get the funds into the Fiscal Year 2007 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill.

“The Clean Coastal Act”: A 5-year, $1.5 billion US EPA program to help communities attack environmental problems such as polluted storm water, sewer overflows and “non-point” sources such as fertilizer and pesticides from lawns. Clinton plans to introduce this bill in the next session.

Protecting Coastal Ecosystems: This bill is before the Senate now and would create programs that address the threat posed by harmful, non-native aquatic plants and animals, such as the common reeds that choke many of LI’s streams and wetlands.

The Long Island Sound Stewardship Act: A program also before the Senate now, which would provide $150 million over eight years to protect environmentally important land areas around the Long Island Sound.


Even beaches that meet standards are not necessarily safe. The current beachwater quality standards are 20 years old and rely on obsolete monitoring methods and out-of-date science that leave beachgoers vulnerable to a range of waterborne illnesses, according to the NRDC.

“A day at the beach should not turn into a night in the bathroom,” said Nancy Stoner, director of NRDC’s Clean Water Project, in a statement on the NRDC website.

The BEACH Act (Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act), required the EPA to revise the current standards by October 2005. The agency missed the deadline, and now says it will not be able to finish updating them until 2011. On August 3, 2006, NRDC sued the agency to force it to establish new standards. In 2000, Congress passed the BEACH Act which gives grants to states for monitoring their water fronts.

Administration More Threat than Help

Even as more states monitor their beaches, coastal water quality faces a persistent threat: the Bush administration's rollback of programs that keep U.S. beachwater clean and safe for swimming. Since taking office in 2001, the administration has declined to protect many wetlands and headwaters that filter beachwater sources, allowed contaminated stormwater from new development to pollute rivers, slashed federal funding for clean water programs, and held up rules that would reduce overflows of raw sewage. Sewage poses a major threat to beachwater quality. But for more than four years, the Bush administration has shelved rules that would reduce raw sewage discharges and require sewer system operators to detect overflows before beachwater quality is affected.