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EPA Grant Helps Rhode Islanders Enjoy Safe Beaches

Release Date: 08/13/2008
Contact Information: Dave Deegan (617) 918-1017

(Warwick, R.I. – August 13, 2008) – With the summer beach season in high gear, EPA’s New England Administrator Robert Varney today announced a grant of $209,650 to the Rhode Island Department of Health to improve and expand water quality monitoring and notification at the state’s public salt water beaches.

"Rhode Island's beaches are one of our greatest resources, and improving the water quality will ensure that they are available to all residents for years to come," said Governor Donald L. Carcieri. "This grant will help the Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Management monitor pollution and high bacteria counts, and fund programs to eliminate the causes of beach closures."

The funding was made available through the federal Beach Act of 2000, which requires coastal states to monitor beaches and notify the public about water quality. Including this year’s grant, Rhode Island since 2001 has received $1,546,600 to implement its program. The grant is an essential element of EPA’s broader beach initiative to reduce pollution levels that cause chronic beach closures. Including grants to other New England coastal states, today’s grant brings the cumulative amount awarded in the region to more than $8 million.

The grant announcement took place at Warwick’s Oakland Beach Park, one of the state’s oldest summer resorts, and a beach that has been closed at least six times already this beach season. Since Memorial Day, more than a quarter of Rhode Island’s 69 salt water beaches have experienced closures, some multiple times.

“This grant is key for helping the public know when it is safe to swim at the beach”, said Regional Administrator Varney, “but we don’t want to stop at letting you know when the water quality is not meeting standards. The goal is to improve the water quality at our beaches. The beach season is short and precious in New England, and we are working with Rhode Island to ensure water quality that lets everyone make the most of it. Warwick, the Department of Health, and the Department of Environmental Management have been excellent partners in this quest.”

EPA's Clean New England Beaches Initiative has helped states and local beach managers take the next steps of finding and eliminating pollution sources that cause beach closures. The Agency is doubling efforts this year to develop action plans for those communities with chronic closures at coastal beaches.

"The Department of Health is pleased to receive this annual grant," said Director of Health David R. Gifford, MD, MPH. "The primary goal of the beach water monitoring program is to ensure that Rhode Island beaches are safe for swimming. This funding will also give our staff the necessary resources to evaluate and potentially identify causes of fchronic water contamination."

A key element of this strategy for reducing closures is to address uncontrolled storm water runoff, which can significantly impact water quality at beaches, rivers and lakes. Storm water runoff and untreated sewage released into bodies of water contain bacteria, viruses and protozoa; some of which can cause minor illnesses such as gastroenteritis or more serious diseases such as hepatitis. Runoff can be contaminated through pet waste, wildlife, oil from roads, illicit connections and various other sources. Untreated sewage can find its way from leaking sewer pipes, failing septic systems, boats and combined sewer overflows.

“During the past several years we have seen far too many beaches closed to swimming because of elevated bacteria levels,” said Department of Environmental Management Director W. Michael Sullivan, PhD. “Continued monitoring has found that stormwater runoff has a major impact on our bathing beaches. To address these concerns, DEM has been working closely with communities like Warwick to implement stormwater remediation efforts to improve water quality at the beaches and protect these important natural resources."


RI DOH monitors 69 marine beaches. In 2007, 17 out of 69 monitored beaches were closed for a total of 69 days, a significant decrease from the 22 beaches closed for 260 days in 2006.

For more information about EPA’s Clean New England Beaches Initiative, visit:
http://www.epa.gov/region1/eco/beaches .

For specific information about Rhode Island beaches, visit
www.ribeaches.org