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NRDC's 20th Annual Beach Report: More Contaminants, Fewer Advisories for Minnesota's Lake Superior Beaches in 2009

Wed, Jul 28th, 2010
Posted in State of Minnesota

Duluth, Minnesota (July 28, 2010) - Pollution continues to contaminate the water at America's beaches, causing 99 advisory days for Minnesota's Lake Superior beaches last year and 18,682 closing and advisory days nationwide. Meanwhile, as of July 23, the Gulf oil disaster had already led to 1,755 days of beach closing, advisories, and notices in the Gulf region this year, according to the 20th annual beachwater quality report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

"Lake Superior is the crown jewel of Minnesota's lakes. Thousands flock to the area every summer to enjoy the beaches and water. It is critical that the public have confidence that their beaches are safe. Minnesota's beaches saw a decrease in advisory days last year but we face continued challenges to reduce contamination," said Darrell Gerber, Program Coordinator for Clean Water Action in Minnesota.

NRDC's annual report - Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches - analyzes government data on beachwater testing results from 2009 at more than 3,000 beaches nationwide, and provides a 5-star rating chart for 200 of the nation's most popular beaches. The report confirms that last year, our nation's beachwater continued to suffer from serious contamination and a concerted effort to control future pollution is required.

"From stomach-turning pathogens to dangerous oil slicks - America's beaches continue to suffer from pollution that can make people sick, harm marine life and destroy coastal economies," said NRDC Water Program Director David Beckman. "And as the disaster of unprecedented scale continues in the Gulf, we must clean up the mess, stop it from happening again, and make sure the communities bearing the brunt are not forgotten."

For the full report, go to


NRDC's report issued 5-star ratings for 200 of the most popular U.S. beaches, based on indicators of beachwater quality, monitoring frequency, and public notification of contamination. In Minnesota, the Franklin Park at 13th Street and Lafayette Community Club beaches at Park Point received 5-star ratings while the Beach House at Park Point received a lower 3-star rating.

This year's report found that 7 percent of beachwater samples nationwide violated health standards in 2009, showing no improvement from the previous two years. In Minnesota, the percentage of health standard exceedances increased slightly to 5 percent in 2009 from 4 percent in 2008. Minnesota ranks 12th in the nation for its beachwater quality testing among 30 coastal states.

Under the federal BEACH Act, states regularly test their beachwater for bacteria found in human and animal waste. When water contamination exceeds health standards, the public is notified through beach closures or advisories. While the report found an overall 8 percent decrease in closing and advisory days at beaches nationwide from 2008, the change does not necessarily signal permanent improvement in beachwater quality. Rather, the overall decrease likely reflects decreased funding for water contamination monitoring in Southern California, as well as dry conditions in Hawaii and the four U.S. territories. In fact, many regions of the country actually saw sharp increases - including most of the East Coast and the entire Gulf Coast, likely at least in part as a result of increased precipitation from the previous year.

In Minnesota, staffing issues at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (which manages beach testing in Minnesota and issues advisories when contaminants are found to exceed health standards) have led the agency to outsource beach monitoring for 2010. Monitoring has yet to begin this year on any Lake Superior beaches in Minnesota.

Testing the Waters shows that the number of closing and advisory days in Minnesota decreased in 2009, to 99 days, down from 257 days in 2008. Most (55%) of the closing and advisory days were caused by unknown sources of contamination, with the remainder (45%) resulting from stormwater runoff.

Stormwater runoff was the primary known source of pollution at beaches nationwide, consistent with past years. Polluted runoff continues to be a serious problem that has not been addressed. Use of smart water solutions- collectively called "green infrastructure" - can help control and treat stormwater pollution, as well as prevent sewage overflows, to keep waste from reaching the beach. Green infrastructure refers to a variety of practices - such as green roofs, permeable pavement, roadside plantings and rain barrels - that stop rainwater where it falls and either stores it for later use or allows it to soak back into the ground.

"Green infrastructure techniques on land can make a real difference in the water - and they're often the cheapest and most effective way to improve beachwater quality" said Julie O'Leary of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership. "Green infrastructure solutions can prevent runoff pollution and sewage overflows from the start, saving us money while also protecting our water and our health."

Beachwater pollution nationwide causes a range of waterborne illnesses in swimmers including stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, ear, nose and throat problems, dysentery, hepatitis, respiratory ailments, neurological disorders and other serious health problems.

"Sewage and runoff pollution in our beachwater is preventable," said Jon Devine, senior NRDC water attorney. "With investment in cost-effective, smarter water practices that are available today, communities can tackle the most common sources of pollution lurking in the waves."


There are several things the government and citizens can do to create healthier summers at the beach:

Individual actions that can reduce beachwater pollution include conserving water, redirecting drainage pipes toward gardens or vegetation, maintaining septic systems, and properly disposing of animal waste, litter, toxic household products, and used motor oil.

Increasing green infrastructure in coastal communities can prevent stormwater runoff and sewage overflows from the start.

Improved testing methods and identification of contamination sources can help protect public health and address the causes by enabling public officials to issue prompter closings and advisories in the event of contamination.

Cutting global warming pollution can help avoid greater beachwater pollution in the future, since global warming is expected to cause increases pathogens in the water and stormwater runoff due to increased storms and flooding.


For the full report, go to:

For a regularly updated map of Gulf beach closures due to oil, go to:

For tips for a safe trip to the beach this summer, go to:

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The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has 1.2 million members and online activists, served from offices in New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Beijing. Clean Water Action and Minnesota Environmental Partnership work together on Great Lakes and water quality issues in Minnesota.

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