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EPA Announces Major Grant to Improve Monitoring and Water Quality at Maine Beaches; Funding Comes as Maine Healthy Beaches Program Adds New Beaches and Web Site

Release Date: 06/29/04
Contact Information: Contact: Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office, (617) 918-1008 Esperanza Stancioff, Maine Healthy Beaches Program (207) 832-0343

For Immediate Release: June 29, 2004; Release # 04-06-39

WELLS, MAINE -- At a press conference at Drakes Island Beach today, the New England Office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a $257,000 grant to the Maine State Planning Office to improve and expand the water quality monitoring and public notification programs at state coastal beaches.

Joanna Jerison, deputy director of EPA New England's Office of Ecosystem Protection, made the announcement at the town-owned Drakes Island Beach because this beach is one of 36 beaches participating in Maine's Healthy Coastal Beaches Program, a three-year-old effort to improve monitoring and overall water quality at state beaches.

The EPA funding was made available through EPA's Clean New England Beaches Initiative, which is making a total of $1.2 million available this summer to the region's five coastal states.
In Maine last summer, no coastal beaches in Maine were closed last summer due to pollution, but in 2001 and 2002 saltwater beaches in the Portland area were closed a total of 16 days and five days, respectively, due to high bacteria counts. The lack of closures in 2003 may have been due to improvements in water quality at these beaches.

Across New England last year, about one fifth of the region's 1,300 coastal beaches were closed at least one day last summer due to pollution, for a total of about 1,100 missed beach days. That's a tangible improvement from 2001, when the region's saltwater beaches had nearly 1,400 beach closure days.

"We've made progress cleaning our waters across New England, but there are still too many days in the summer when families cannot swim due to poor water quality," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England Office. "Even in Maine, where the waters are relatively clean, we must work to eliminate dirty storm runoff and other pollution that leads to unhealthy swimming conditions."

EPA has awarded Maine more than $800,000 since 2001 to support and expand the state's beach monitoring programs. The funding was made possible by the Federal Beach Act approved by Congress in 2000.

The money goes to Maine's Healthy Coastal Beaches Program which began in 2002 with nine pilot beaches and has since expanded to include 36 this summer, the newest additions this year being Higgins and Pine Point Beaches in Scarborough, Lincolnville Beach in Lincolnville and the Kinney Shores and Bayview Beaches in Saco. The program also unveiled a new Maine Healthy Beaches web site this year at icon for EPA disclaimer.

"The increased outreach and education we have been able to offer to the public and Maine communities is making a big difference in bringing environmental best practices to our beaches. This is all being made possible through EPA's funding, which is critical to the success of our program in improving water quality," said Esperanza Stancioff, coordinator of Maine's Healthy Coastal Beaches Program. "The strong local and state support for these programs reflects Maine's commitment to public health protection at its coastal beaches."

The Healthy Coastal Beaches Program, coordinated by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service and Sea Grant in collaboration with a statewide advisory committee, aims to develop a standardized monitoring program, regional laboratories, and education and outreach materials to keep the public informed about water quality issues at state beaches.

Launched two summers ago, EPA's New England Beaches Initiative selected 11 flagship beaches across New England, including Ferry Beach State Park in Saco and Wells Beach and Drakes Island Beach in Wells. These beaches were chosen as models for other beach managers and are based on several criteria: serving large populations; a history of beach closures due to pollution; high quality monitoring already in place; and a strong potential for state and federal resources to be used.

Polluted runoff and untreated sewage released into the water can contain bacteria, viruses, and protozoans, some of which can cause minor illnesses such as gastroenteritis or more serious diseases such as hepatitis. Runoff can be contaminated from pet waste, wildlife, illicit connections and various other sources. Sources of sewage include leaking sewer pipes, failing septic systems, boats and combined sewer overflows.

Related Information:
RA Column: Pollution Reduction Efforts Paying Off for New England's Beaches
Beaches and Coasts
Storm Water Topics
Non-Point Source
Combined Sewer Overflows
Water Quality