Federal Grants Help Keep Eyes on Ocean State Beaches

By ecoRI News staff

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently awarded a $203,500 grant to the Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH) for its coastal beach monitoring program. Including the Sept. 1 grant, Rhode Island has now received $3,423,656 since 2001 under the federal Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act).

“Rhode Island’s hundreds of miles of coastline are at the economic, environmental, and cultural heart of our state,” DOH director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said.

Rhode Island has some 400 miles of coastline, with some of its beaches seeing up to 10,000 visitors in a single day during the summer. The grants are an essential part of a broader initiative to find and eliminate sources of pollution, particularly stormwater and other non-point sources, that contribute to chronic beach closures.

Under its beach program, DOH monitors 69 licensed saltwater beaches for indicator bacteria; maintains and operates a public notification system; and provides technical assistance to communities to assess pollution sources at specific beaches.

In 2016, Rhode Island posted 12 saltwater beach closure events — number of times a beach was closed due to exceedance of water-quality standards — and 23 saltwater beach closure days, the number of days a beach was closed during an event. These numbers represent a major improvement relative to 2015, when there were 27 closure events spread over 54 closure days.

Because 2016 was a drier year than 2015, a more telling sign of improved water quality at beaches is that the 2016 decreases occurred under rainfall conditions very similar to those in 2014 that led to almost three times as many closure events — 34 to 12, according to DOH.