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EPA Launches Annual Efforts to Protect Area Beaches, Coastal Waters and New York/New Jersey Harbor

Release Date: 05/27/2010
Contact Information: John Senn, (212) 637-3667, senn.john@epa.gov

(New York, N.Y.) With the beginning of the beach season, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is again undertaking a beach and harbor protection program to safeguard beaches and bays in New Jersey and New York, and protect the health of the people who enjoy them. EPA’s program, which includes helicopter surveillance, sampling and state funding, kicked off Tuesday, May 25, with helicopter flights searching for floating debris in the New York/New Jersey Harbor.

“EPA is on the job every summer helping to make sure that beachgoers can enjoy the water without worry,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck. “Our efforts ensure that the public receives information about the quality of the water at local beaches so they can make informed decisions about where to spend time enjoying the water with friends and families.”

Working together with other federal, state and local agencies, EPA’s program operates seven days a week. This comprehensive, science-based beach and coastal water program has many components, including shellfish bed water quality monitoring, grants to states to help with their beach monitoring and public notification programs, and the development of pollution discharge limits, called total maximum daily loads, for the New York/New Jersey Harbor and the New York Bight. This summer, EPA will use its boats, including its Ocean Survey Vessel BOLD, to collect water samples and further assess the influence of nutrients, such as nitrogen, on dissolved oxygen levels. Low dissolved oxygen levels can negatively impact aquatic ecosystems and can lead to fish kills. As they do every summer, EPA scientists will fly over the New York/New Jersey Harbor in EPA’s helicopter, the Coastal Crusader, searching for floating debris, and it will again collect water samples near shellfish beds and along the New Jersey coast for dissolved oxygen.

In 2007, EPA began the evaluation of a new rapid method of testing beach water for bacteria that cause gastrointestinal illnesses. The prior assessments show promise as a beach monitoring tool. Conventional methods require 24 hours for results while the new method can provide results in as little as three hours after sample collection. EPA will continue its assessment of this rapid test technology this summer to further refine this new method and evaluate results under various environmental conditions.

Highlights of EPA’s Coastal Water and Beach Program:
Floatables Surveillance Overflights:
From late May to early September, EPA’s Coastal Crusader helicopter will fly over the New Jersey/New York Harbor Complex six days a week, Monday through Saturday. EPA conducts these flights to identify floating debris slicks and to coordinate cleanups with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and the Passaic Valley Sewage Commission to prevent wash-ups on the beaches of New Jersey and New York. EPA also reports any observed oil slicks to the U.S. Coast Guard for cleanup. A skimmer vessel will help respond to slicks in the Newark Bay. Additionally, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) will fly over the harbor on Sunday to ensure coverage seven days a week.

Rapid Test Method Research:
EPA will continue its assessment of rapid test technology this summer to further refine this new method and evaluate results using multiple test instruments. This is the fourth year of the studying the method used to assess Ocean and Monmouth County bathing beaches.

Shellfish Bed Monitoring Program:
The EPA helicopter will be used to collect water quality samples to assist NJDEP and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) with monitoring the health of their shellfish beds. To support this program, phytoplankton samples will be collected six times this summer along the New Jersey coast in Raritan Bay, Sandy Hook Bay, Barnegat Bay, Great Bay and Delaware Bay. Samples will also be collected for fecal contamination at 26 stations six times this summer along the Long Island coast, from Rockaway to Shinnecock Inlet.

Dissolved Oxygen Monitoring:
New Jersey coastal waters are listed as impaired due to low dissolved oxygen concentrations. To continue to monitor for trends, EPA will use its helicopter to take samples at 20 stations located one to three miles off the coast of New Jersey and test for dissolved oxygen and temperature. These samples will be taken four times in late summer when dissolved oxygen levels are expected to be at their lowest. In addition, EPA has provided funding to NJDEP for the purchase of a glider to provide continuous dissolved oxygen measurements.

National Coastal Assessment:
EPA’s national coastal assessment intends to survey the condition of the nation’s coastal resources by creating an integrated, comprehensive coastal monitoring program in partnership with coastal and Great Lakes states. Each of the 24 coastal states and the Great Lakes National Program, using a probabilistic design and a common set of survey indicators, will conduct the survey and assess the condition of their coastal resources. These estimates then will be aggregated to assess conditions at the EPA Regional, biogeographical and national levels. New Jersey and New York are part of the Northeast region.

New Jersey has 27 stations as part of this year’s assessment; New York has 21 coastal and 55 Great Lakes stations. The assessment will test water quality, sediment quality, and aquatic communities. Samples will be collected using a combination of EPA, State and contractor resources. EPA’s Clean Waters vessel will be utilized in a number of the sampling runs.

Beach Monitoring and Notification Program:
The state of New Jersey and local health departments have received nearly $2.8 million dollars to date in EPA grants through the federal BEACH Act; New York state has received $3.4 million. New Jersey will receive an additional $560,000 this year and New York will get an additional $660,000.

Total Maximum Daily Loads and Continuing Assessment:
In combating pollution, it is critical to set limits for how much of a particular pollutant a body of water can take. These limits, called total maximum daily loads (TMDLs), are currently being developed for nutrients going into the NY/NJ Harbor and the New York Bight. Nutrients can cause phytoplankton blooms that die and decompose resulting in low dissolved oxygen, and EPA will maintain its summer-long assessments of nutrient dissolved oxygen conditions within the New York Bight. EPA will use its boats to assess the water and collect water samples to determine what impact nutrients have on the levels of dissolved oxygen in the water. EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel BOLD, which performs various monitoring activities in ocean waters across the country throughout the year, will assist with these efforts in July and August.

For more information on EPA’s diverse coastal water activities, visit: http://www.epa.gov/region02/water/oceans.

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