Delaware beaches get high marks for water quality

The Natural Resources Defense Council has issued its 2009 report, “Testing the Waters,” listing Delaware beaches as first in beachwater quality.

Although good news for Delaware, the report also finds that overall, the reported number of closings and advisories made 2008 their fourth-worst year since they starting keeping track 19 years ago, making national improvement still a top priority.

The report concentrates on 200 popular ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches and tests the percentage of failure to meet water quality health standards, (0 percent for Delaware); the number of failures less than five percent over the past three years (0 percent for Delaware); water quality testing frequency (62 percent of beaches are tested, only 47 percent test once a week, as does Delaware); always issuing advisories promptly and posting closing and advisories online and on the beaches.

Although already low, Delaware failure rates have actually decreased since 2006, which shows improvement.

“In 2008, 1 percent of all reported beach monitoring samples exceeded the state’s daily maximum bacterial standards. The beaches with the highest percent exceedance rate in 2008 were Holts Landing Beach (15 percent) and Delaware Seashore State Park, Tower Road Bayside in Sussex County (14 percent).”

These two were also the only two that reported closings for 2008, both for bacteria related to stormwater. The report explains that the closings were done as a precaution (not related to monitoring) and because of extended rainfall.

The report also explains that permanent caution regarding swimming is advised “because of concerns about water quality” in Rehoboth Bay, Indian River Bay, and Little Assawoman Bay, and this permanent advisory includes Tower Road Bayside in Rehoboth Bay and Holts Landing Beach in Indian River Bay.

“Contaminants in these bays come from many sources in the watershed, including failing septic systems, farm and lawn fertilizers, and runoff from poultry operations. In addition, the sewage treatment plants in Lewes and Rehoboth discharge treated effluent into the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal, which feeds into the bays.”

The beaches tested included Holts Landing Beach; Sussex Delaware Seashore State Park, Tower Road Bayside; Rehoboth — Delaware Ave; Delaware/Maryland Line Beach; Cape Henlopen State Park — Herring Point; Fenwick Island State Park Beach; Rehoboth — Rehoboth Ave Beach; Prime Hook Beach; Broadkill Beach; Delaware Seashore State Park, Tower Road Ocean Site; Slaughter Beach; Lewes Beach South; Rehoboth — Queen Street Beach; Lewes Beach North; Indian River Inlet Beach; Bethany Beach; Rehoboth — Virginia Ave Beach; South Bethany Beach; North Indian River Inlet Beach; Delaware Seashore State Park Cape Henlopen Beach; Dewey Beach; Atlantic Beach Near Gordon’s Pond; and a Fenwick Island town beach.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a grassroots environmental action group that since its inception in 1970, has grown to over 1.2 million members. According to literature, they use “law, science and the support of 1.2 million members and online activists to protect the planet’s wildlife and wild places and to ensure a safe and healthy environment for all living things.”

The Delaware Center for Inland Bays plans to release a Recreational Water Quality Indicator report in the next few weeks for the inland bays, as opposed to ocean waters, which the NRDC report concentrates on.

“It will be very similar in nature but much more data specific to the inland bays and will discuss some of the whys, hows and so-whats,” explained Science Coordinator Chris Bason.

The Delaware Center for the Inland Bays, a nonprofit organization since 1994 under the auspices of the Inland Bays Watershed Enhancement Act (Title 7, Chapter 76), has a mission of promoting the wise use and enhancement of the Inland Bays and their watersheds through research, education, restoration and public policy.