Menendez, Pallone Announce Bill to Protect Water Quality, Public Health at Jersey Shore Beaches
SEA BRIGHT, N.J. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (N.J.-06) today announced the introduction of legislation to protect our beaches by setting national coastal water quality standards, and providing federal funding to states to test water quality and notify the public when conditions are unsafe. The announcement was made at the Sea Bright Public Beach.
“The BEACH Act allows families to come to the beach with the peace of mind of knowing that the water is safe for them and their children to swim and play,” said Sen. Menendez. “But it’s also about accepting our responsibilities as stewards of our incredible coastal environment, what it means to all of us, and preserving our pristine, vibrant Jersey Shore for generations to come.”
“Clean, safe and healthy beaches are vital to our state’s economy and give beachgoers the peace of mind they need to enjoy this incredible resource,” said Rep. Pallone. “My bill with Senator Lautenberg was an important step to keep beaches clean and safe, and now I am proud to introduce this bill with Senator Menendez to reauthorize and strengthen the original legislation.”
The BEACH Act of 2017 would reauthorize a $30 million-a-year federal grant program through 2021 to provide funding for local efforts to monitor beach water quality and notify the public of health hazards. The bill would also make needed updates to the law, including requiring the use of rapid testing methods and for states to track down sources of pollution. The BEACH Act was first enacted in 2000 under a law originally authored by Rep. Pallone and the late-Sen. Frank Lautenberg. Sen. Menendez has been the chief BEACH Act sponsor in the U.S. Senate since the passing of Sen. Lautenberg in 2013.
While the Trump Administration has proposed zeroing out all BEACH Act grant funding, Sen. Menendez and Rep. Pallone are leading the effort to secure these funds in fiscal year 2018. They have successfully led prior efforts to beat back similar defunding plans under President Obama.
Under the BEACH Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required to work with states to ensure they use the latest science to sample and test beach waters to protect the public's health. If tests come back positive for contaminants then the state is required to close the beach until it is clean. The law also helps states set up and operate comprehensive monitoring and notification programs in order to provide up-to-date information on the condition of all public beaches.
The BEACH Act has provided New Jersey with more than $4 million in grants to operate approximately 180 ocean and 35 bay monitoring stations along the Jersey Shore, perform weekly recreational beach water quality monitoring, and notify the public when tests come back positive for contamination to protect swimmers. The monitoring program this season has already resulted in the temporary closures of several Jersey Shore beaches until the waters were deemed safe.
“The BEACH Act is essential to ensure that a day at the beach is a joyful one, and doesn’t make you sick. It is shocking that defending the funding of this public safety law has become an annual battle. Who doesn’t support safe beaches for our kids? That said, this law was state-of-the-art 20 years ago. Today’s technology allows for faster and more protective testing so we can know on day one that our beaches are safe for swimming, not the day after. We are long overdue for an upgrade,” said Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action.
The reauthorization legislation mandates the use of rapid testing methods by requiring EPA to approve methods that detect water contamination in four hours or less so that beaches can be closed shortly thereafter. Current water quality monitoring tests only test for bacteria levels and take 24 to 48 hours to produce reliable results, during which time many beachgoers can be unknowingly exposed to harmful pathogens.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s annual analysis of water quality data, 10 percent of all samples exceeded EPA’s benchmark for assessing swimmer safety. Furthermore, EPA has estimated that up to 3.5 million people become sick from contact with raw sewage from sanitary sewer overflows each year.
New Jersey's beaches generate over $44 billion a year in economic activity, and support over half a million direct and indirect jobs, or nearly ten percent of the state’s entire workforce.