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Seacoast Beach Water ‘Cleanest in New England,’
No. 2 in Nation

By By Mark Chag, Jr., Alantic News Staff Writer

Atlantic News, Friday, August 7, 2009

[The following article is courtesy of Atlantic News]

HAMPTON BEACH — The news about the nation’s beaches that’s been trickling out of Washington recently may not be very good for most Americans, but it’s great for folks in New Hampshire.

That’s because, while many beaches in the country are plagued with consistent closing due to pollution and high bacteria levels, Hampton Beach and the rest of New Hampshire’s coastline remains among the cleanest in the entire United States, ranking number two in the nation and at the top of the list for New England.

The water at American beaches was called “seriously polluted” by officials, and jeopardized the health of swimmers last year with the number of closing and advisory days at ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches.

In all, days in which various beaches were closed reached more than 20,000 total for the fourth consecutive year, according to the 19th annual beach water quality report released last week by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Data from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), NRDC’s report, “Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches,” confirms that the nation’s beach waters continue to suffer from serious contamination (including human and animal waste) that can cause serious illness to swimmers, yet New Hampshire’s waters rank among the cleanest anywhere.

What’s more, 85 percent of what contaminants were found were of “unknown origin,” while no traces of contaminants in NH came from sewage or storm water run-off.

“When families head to the beach this summer, they shouldn’t have to worry about swimming in human and animal waste that can make them sick,” says Herb Moyer, Interim President of the Seacoast Anti-Pollution League of Portsmouth.

NRDC’s report also provides a five-star rating guide for 200 of the nation’s most popular beaches, based on indicators of beachwater quality, monitoring frequency, and public notification of contamination. Hampton Beach State Park received the top rank with a five-star rating and New Hampshire joined only Delaware and Virginia as having the lowest amount (1 percent) of water quality tests exceeding the federal water quality standards.

The five-star rating is based on beaches receiving one star various criteria each meets.

While the report found a 10 percent decrease in closing and advisory days at beaches nationwide from 2007, beach closing and advisory days for the Granite State increased from two days in 2007 to 13 days in 2008. The drop in days nationwide was the result of dry conditions in many parts of the country and decreased funding for water monitoring in some states last year, rather than a sign of large-scale improvement. The decline follows two years of record-high closing and advisory days and the primary pollution source, stormwater runoff after heavy rains, continues to be a serious problem that has not been addressed.

“When the rains return,” said NRDC Water Program Co-Director Nancy Stoner, “so will pollution, forcing beaches to issue more closings and advisory days.”

Nationally, seven percent of beachwater samples violated health standards (indicating the presence of human or animal waste) showing no improvement from 2007 or 2006. In New Hampshire, the percentage of health standard exceedances remained the same at 1 percent in 2008 from the same percentage in 2007.

This percent remained the same even though the number of closing and advisory days increased due to a greater number of samples taken in 2008 than in 2007, and most of the closing and advisory days were caused by bacteria from unknown sources. The Granite State ranks second in the nation for its beachwater quality testing.

In some regions of the country, beachwater pollution makes swimmers vulnerable to a range of waterborne illnesses including stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, ear, nose and throat problems, dysentery, hepatitis, respiratory ailments, neurological disorders and other serious health problems. For Senior Citizens, small children, and people with weak immune systems, the results can be fatal.

“Pollution from dirty stormwater runoff and sewage overflows continues to make its way to our beaches. This not only makes swimmers sick — it hurts coastal economies,” Stoner said. “Americans should not suffer the consequences of contaminated beachwater. From contracting the flu or pink eye, to jeopardizing millions of jobs and billions of dollars that rely on clean coasts, there are serious costs to inaction.”

The best way to protect swimmers from beachwater pollution is to prevent it. Federal, state and local governments can make this a priority by requiring better controls on stormwater and sewage, the two largest known sources of beachwater pollution. A key solution is to utilize low impact development techniques in communities to retain and filter rainwater where it falls, letting it soak back into the ground rather than running off into waterways.

This includes strategically placed rain gardens in yards, tree boxes on city sidewalks, green roofs that use absorbent vegetation on top of buildings, and permeable pavement that allows water to penetrate the material, instead of asphalt or concrete.

But while some beaches in the country are choked with pollution, what makes Hampton Beach’s water so clean?

“Keeping our waters clean starts with a clean beach,” says John Nyhan, chairman of the Hampton Beach Area Commission. “A lot of credit has to go out Brian Warburton (South/ Seacoast regional superintendent for the NH Division of State Parks/ NH Department of Resources and Economic Development), his staff and the many local volunteers that work long hours to help keep the beach area clean. Keep in mind that these unpaid volunteers work very hard to be trash collectors so that our tourist population may enjoy a clean and beautiful beach. We as a community not only have to continue to support their efforts but also we must come up with creative ideas to educate our summer visitors and recruit them as temporary volunteers in the ‘Keep Hampton Beach Clean’ campaign. That way, maybe our local volunteers can find time to enjoy the beach as well.”

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