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The beaches are one of America’s favorite vacation destinations. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers go to the beach every summer to enjoy the sun, sand, and surf. Providing local jobs and generating millions of dollars to the local economy, coastal tourism is threatened by pollution that puts public health at risk. Sewage spills and urban runoff continue to contaminate many of our beaches with disease-causing bacteria and other pathogens. High bacteria levels, indicating the presence of human or animal waste, prompted 88 percent of the national closures and advisories in 2003.

“It is unfortunate that in the 21st century we still have to wonder if we will get sick from swimming in the water. Nationwide approximately 45% of our waters are still not clean enough to support basic uses such as fishing or swimming, that is unacceptable,” stated Adrienne Esposito, CCE Executive Director, “New York needs to take steps to stop untreated sewage and control storm water run-off from contaminating into our waters.”

The two leading causes for beach closures in New York State are untreated sewage released into the water, which leads to high bacteria levels, and non-point source pollution, like storm water run-off. When rainwater runs off parking lots, highways, and rooftops it collects pollutants such as pesticides, motor oil, gasoline, and pet waste that contaminates our streams, lakes, rivers, estuaries and oceans.

Thirty-six percent of all New York’s beach closures were a result of untreated sewage contaminating our waters. Specifically a problem for Erie County, which had 115 beach closures, mostly related to high bacteria levels. Monroe County recorded 32 beach closures, also due mostly to high bacteria levels. Sewage contamination was responsible for the majority of the 52 beach closures in Chautauqua County.

The report offers several reasons why New York closures jumped so drastically from 2002. First, there was an increase in the frequency and the number of beaches monitored in 2003 than in 2002. Second, due to inadequate back-up generators for sewage treatment plants, the August 2003 blackout caused many sewage treatment plants to release untreated sewage into our waterways, particularly impacting the New York City region. Finally, although the beach closures and public health advisories are increasing nationwide, the current administration is weakening water quality regulations and programs instead of strengthening them.

The current administration began working to undermine Clean Water Act protections for beach water the first day it took office and continues to issue new policies that undermine Clean Water Act programs that help keep beach water clean and safe for swimming. The administration also has declined to protect many wetlands and other waters that filter beach water sources, rolled back treatment requirements for sewage, allowed contaminated storm water from new development to pollute rivers, slashed federal funding for clean water programs, and delayed and derailed state efforts to clean up polluted waterways.

“With the Administration weakening water quality protection, CCE is calling on the New York State Legislature to protect our magnificent coastal beaches and local waterways, by enacting the Wetlands Protection Act (S4480/A07905),” said CCE program coordinator Brian Smith. Currently, thirty-three percent of beach closures in NYS are caused by storm water run-off. “Wetlands help to filter out pollutants found in storm water run-off, which results in less pollution going into our lakes, streams, estuaries, and oceans and leads to cleaner, safer, and open beaches for all New Yorkers,” Smith concluded.


(For the complete report, go to http://www.nrdc.org/water/oceans/ttw/titinx.asp.)

Citizens Campaign for the Environment is an 80,000 member, not-for-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization working for the protection of public health and the natural environment.
Buffalo, NY—Every Summer New Yorkers hear, “Beach closures and advisories are up…again.” This year New York Beach closures and advisories are up 138 percent from last year. Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE) today released a national report, which found more closures and advisories in 2003 than at any other time in the last 14 years. “Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches,” prepared by Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a national environmental advocacy organization, reports that nationwide there were more than 18,000 days of closures and advisories at ocean and Great Lakes beaches last year – an increase of 51 percent from 2002. In New York there were 692 closures/advisories in 2003, compared to only 291 in 2002.