Déjà Vu: EPA Threatens to Ax Beach Funds

Uh oh. Here we go again.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is once again recommending the complete elimination of the Beaches Grant Program, a key initiative for protecting public health at our nation’s beaches. Nearly $10 million in monitoring money is on the chopping block in the administration’s recently issued federal budget proposal for fiscal year 2014.

This is a déjà vu moment from last year, as EPA made a similar proposal for FY 2013. Luckily, program cuts were avoided then, thanks to Heal the Bay and our partner groups’advocacy and efforts from a group of 19 U.S. Senators including California’s Boxer and Feinstein.

Routine beach water monitoring, funded through the Beaches Grant Program, is essential for identifying polluted waters and promptly notifying the 90 million plus beachgoers who visit America’s beaches every year of potential waterborne illnesses such as diarrhea, nausea, ear and eye infections and skin rashes.

The majority of state beach programs are completely funded through federal grants. In California, federal money accounts for approximately one-third of the total funding of these critical programs (the state contributes about $1 million). The proposed cut is extremely concerning as states are only obligated to implement beach programs when federal funding is provided.

If implemented, these cuts will likely have a major impact on beach programs nationwide , including reduction in the number of monitoring locations, less frequent monitoring and elimination of off-season water testing programs. Reduced monitoring could compromise not only public health protection but also the ability to track chronically polluted beaches. Failure to protect public health will also endanger the coastal tourism and recreation economies that contributed over $61 billion to the GDP in 2009.

As Heal the Bay prepares for the May release of our 23rd Annual Beach Report Card, which provides annual water quality grades for approximately 650 beaches along the West Coast, we are concerned about the fate of beach water quality monitoring in the coming year.

Again, we call upon our Congressional representatives to take action against this proposal and for the public to sound their concerns. Historically, Congress has appropriated between $9.75 and $10 million to fund beach programs, and they should continue this level of funding to support our valuable coastal tourism-based economies and to protect beachgoers from getting sick from exposure to polluted water. While we understand that some cuts must be made in these difficult financial times, compromising public health is not truly a cost savings.

– Kirsten James

Science and Policy Director, Water Quality

Visit Heal the Bay partner Surfrider Foundation to contact your representatives in D.C. and let them know that you have the right to know if a day at the beach could make you sick.