Water Quality: Beach Advisory Days
Erie’s performance is strong compared to nearby neighbors.
In 2014, Erie beaches averaged just 7.3% beach closure days, compared to an average of over 28% for five of our neighbor counties on the Great Lakes. Erie’s percentage has risen over the last few years from a low of 5.1%, but it continues to provide safe water for bathing at a higher rate than five nearby peers, with the exception of Niagara County, NY in two of the last three years.
This indicator reports the percentage of beach days for which there were advisories for each county’s beaches—days when the water may be risky for bathers due to the presences of unsafe levels of bacteria.
Why It's Important
Beach advisory days can serve as a proxy for water pollution off the coast of each county.
The variable is calculated as the number of beach days for which a beach had an advisory. The number of beach advisory days is added across all beaches in a county and calculated as a percentage of total days in the beach season.
The Nitty-Gritty Details
The counties included have the following numbers of beaches: Erie PA: 13; Chautauqua NY: 6; Erie NY: 7; Niagara NY: 2; Ashtabula OH: 4; Cuyahoga OH: 19.
The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act of 2000 authorizes EPA to provide grants to coastal and Great Lakes states, territories, and eligible tribes to monitor their coastal beaches for bacteria that indicate the possible presence of disease-causing pathogens and to notify the public when there is a potential risk to public health. The BEACH Act requires that recipients of those grants report their coastal beach monitoring and notification data to EPA. When monitoring results at swimming beaches show that levels of specific indicator bacteria in the water exceed applicable water quality standards, Pennsylvania officials issue a beach advisory, warning people of possible risks of swimming.
According to the EPA: “The number of beach days in the swimming season (based on swimming season length) is presented for each beach. If the beach had an action (1) the total number of action days and (2) the percentage of beach days the beach was under an action are also presented. Note: This report includes monitored and non-monitored beaches. An action can be based on a model or policy and not be a monitored beach.
A swimming advisory is posted if the E. coli concentration exceeds 235 cfu/100ml but is less than 1,000 cfu/100ml as an arithmetic average of 3 samples taken at a beach. Swimming is permitted and the public is advised of the potential risks. An advisory is lifted when the arithmetic average of 3 samples is less than 235 cfu/ml.
A swimming restriction is posted if the E. coli concentration equals or exceeds 1,000 cfu/100ml as an arithmetic average of 3 samples taken at a beach. Swimming is not allowed when a restriction is posted. A restriction is changed to an advisory when check samples result in an arithmetic average that is less than 1,000 cfu/100ml.
In 2014 ECDH, in cooperation with the Regional Science Consortium (RSC) at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center, Gannon University, Penn State Behrend and Presque Isle State Park, continued to develop a predictive model program specifically for Presque Isle. This program utilized historical data that included sample monitoring analysis results from 2008 – 2013, in addition to water quality data from three buoys deployed off of Presque Isle beaches. Also included was weather related information, including wind direction and rainfall. The RSC also conducted qPCR analyses of the beaches waters. All these were used as beach management tools to make decisions on the appropriateness of precautionary advisories.
Three counties east of Erie County PA in New York state (Chautauqua, Erie, and Niagara) and two west of us in Ohio (Ashtabula and Cuyahoga.) All are on Lake Erie except Niagara NY, which is on Lake Ontario.