Here’s what that means, and how the state’s sampling program works
Every Monday morning this swim season, beachgoers can find the Georgia Department of Natural Resources collecting samples of water at Coastal Georgia’s most popular beaches on Tybee, St. Simons and Jekyll Islands.
What are they testing for? Enterococcus, a type of bacteria found in the guts of all warm-blooded animals. When found in high amounts in beach water, the bacteria can indicate that an excess of boat discharge or fecal matter has runoff into the water, or that other potentially harmful pathogens are present.
This beach water sampling and testing is managed by the DNR’s Coastal Resources Division, which in May received a $277,000 grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency to fund this public health and safety initiative.
So far this year, 19 water quality advisories have been issued: five on Tybee Island, eight on St. Simon’s Island and six on Jekyll Island. The most recent advisory was issued on June 15 at South Beach near the lighthouse on St. Simons Island, which has had four total advisories, the most of any beach this year. The advisory was lifted on June 16.
At this time last year, 19 advisories had also been issued along the coast. By the end of 2020, a total of 44 had been issued: 10 on Tybee Island, 24 on St. Simon’s Island and 10 on Jekyll Island.
The EPA has provided $1.8 million in grants to six southeastern coastal states this year. The amount of money a state received was dependent on the length of its beach season, the number of miles of shoreline it has and the population of its coastal counties. Florida, which has the most shoreline of any southern state and the second most shoreline in the country, received a $470,000 grant.
Georgia has received a beach grant from the EPA annually since 2001. The state usually receives around $270,000 to $280,000, for a total of nearly $5.4 million in funding over the past two decades. In total, the EPA has awarded over $195 million in beach grants across the country since 2001.
“Clean and healthy beaches are important to the prosperity of numerous communities and are critical to boosting environmental and economic benefits,” John Blevins, acting administrator of EPA region 4, said in a press release. “EPA beach grants enable our partners in Georgia to conduct testing and address potential sources of contamination to ensure that waters are clean and healthy for beachgoers this summer.”
The EPA is authorized to award grants that support testing and monitoring of coastal waters due to the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act, which amended the Clean Water Act in 2000. The act is designed to reduce the risk of disease at coastal waterways across the country by supporting water quality testing, monitoring and communication efforts.
Edward Zmarzly, coordinator of the DNR Coastal Resources Division…