4 'superstar' beaches for the holiday weekend; plus 10 to monitor

The Natural Resources Defense Council's annual report on water quality at beaches finds that 2010 was the second highest year on record for beach closures in two decades.

NRDC senior attorney Jon Devine snoozes on one of his favorite beaches. Image courtesy of the NRDC blog.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has come out with its 21st annual beachwater quality report, just in time for the long July 4th holiday weekend in the United States. The list, "Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches," looks at the effects of pollution from stormwater runoff or (ick) sewage overflows on 3,000 different beach locations across the country.

Among other things, the report found that there were 9,747 days of oil-related beach closures from the time of the Gulf oil spill last year until June 15, 2011. Almost three-quarters of the beach closings in 2010 were because of bacteria levels that exceeded health and safety levels.

Last year was the second-highest year on record for beach closings in the past 21 years. Aging municipal water systems and poorly designed runoffs are the primary culprits, according to the NRDC. Several other factors were cited for the increase including heavy rainfall in Hawaii, contamination in California and the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

So far this year, the water quality is relatively steady. The most challenged region overall was the Great Lakes. The Southeast, New York-New Jersey coast and Delmarva region were generally the cleanest regions. Woo-hoo, that's great to hear, since I'm heading for Virginia Beach later this afternoon.

The organization's observation: by focusing on creating greener environments on the land, communities can help make their coast waters cleaner and safer for human recreation. Notes David Beckman, director of the water program at NRDC:

"Clean beachwater is not only good for public health, it supports healthy coastal economies that generate billions and dollars and support millions of American jobs. By taking steps to stop the biggest sources of pollution in the waves, we can help keep trips to beach carefree, and support our lucrative tourism industries nationwide."

If you are looking for communities that are already doing better than average at making sure their beaches (ocean and freshwater) are healthy, here are four suggestions that the NRDC makes. These are the so-called "superstar beaches" that have earned a 5-star rating AND for having a perfect testing record for the past three years in a row.

  1. Rehobeth Beach (Sussex County, Delaware)
  2. Dewey Beach (Sussex County, Delaware)
  3. Park Point Lafayette Community Beach (St. Louis County, Minnesota)
  4. Hampton Beach State Park (Rockingham County, New Hampshire)

Hopefully, overcrowding won't be an issue after people read this list, because I'm betting that's a factor for the locations that are listed as the "top 10 repeat offenders" in the NRDC report. The repeat offenders are beaches that had water samples exceeding public health standards for more than 25 percent of the time between 2006 and 2010. Those beaches are:

  1. Avalon Beach, several sections but not the entire beach (Los Angeles County, California)
  2. Cabrillo Beach (Los Angeles County, California)
  3. Doheny State Beach, two out of six sections monitored, but not the entire beach (Orange County, California)
  4. Keaton Beach (Taylor County, Florida)
  5. North Point Marina Beach (Lake County, Illinois)
  6. Beachwood Beach West (Ocean County, New Jersey)
  7. Villa Angela State Park (Cuyahoga County, Ohio)
  8. Ropes Park (Nueces County, Texas)
  9. Eichelman Beach (Kenosha County, Wisconsin)
  10. South Shore Beach (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)

Here is a link to a list of ratings for 200 of the most popular beaches in the United States, in case you want to check them out before you head off for the holiday weekend.

The video below is a primer on how beach water quality is compromised, specifically focusing on the effects of stormwater runoff.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com