How Safe is Swimming at the Beaches in Your State?

Water quality at America’s beaches
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A day at the beach usually means sun, fun, and surf. Unfortunately, it can also mean pollution, contamination, and unsafe swimming conditions, especially in the summer months when the warmer water creates the perfect environment for bacteria to grow and thrive. Waterborne illnesses affect millions of people each year, and it is often the result of fecal contamination in beach waters.

Sewage runoff from storms, improper dumping, and over-development of coastal regions all contribute to these pollutants in this country's waters, as well as factory farms and deteriorating sewer systems in some regions. Climate change is also a factor, with warmer, wet weather; flooding; and heavy rains creating more runoff into the oceans, bays, and lakes.

Environment America Research & Policy Center, a non-profit dedicated to the conservation and protection of water, air, and natural resources, partnered with the Frontier Group to compile and share data on the condition of America's beach waters. Its 2020 "Safe for Swimming?" report shows the results of samples taken from more than 3,000 U.S. beaches during a 2019 testing period. Of those beaches tested, 386 of them were determined to be unsafe at least 25% of the days their water was sampled.

Stacker consulted Environment America's report to create a concise picture of the water quality at America's beaches. Although the report contains a large data sample size, the data presented is not necessarily comparable between states or beaches due to a wide variety of sampling techniques and reporting practices. For example, some beaches may be subject to additional testing as a result of natural weather or pollution events, Some beaches may not be monitored also. Data was collected in 2019, and released in 2020.

Take a look at just how safe America's beaches are for swimming and read about some of the solutions being implemented by various states.

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Alabama
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Alabama

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 60% (15 out of a total 25 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- Fairhope Public Beach: 12 out of 56 days tested (21.4%)
--- May Day Park: 7 out of 31 days tested (22.6%)
--- Dog River, Alba Club: 7 out of 33 days tested (21.2%)

Of the 25 Alabama beaches tested, 60% were found to be potentially unsafe. The beach that had the highest number of unsafe test days was Fairhope Public beach, which is located on the shores of Mobile Bay. Sewage overflows during storms and heavy rains can sometimes flood the waterways that feed into the bay, leading to contamination. The Coastal Alabama Beach Monitoring Program regularly tests the major recreational beaches, monitoring water quality and issuing advisories or closures as needed.

California
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California

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 79.8% (202 out of a total 253 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- Inner Cabrillo Beach: 150 out of 258 days tested (58.1%)
--- Marina Del Rey Beach/Mothers Beach: 111 out of 299 days tested (37.1%)
--- Topanga State Beach: 101 out of 257 days tested (39.3%)

More than 60% of California's 420-plus beaches were tested for this study; roughly 80% of those had potentially unsafe water on at least one day during the testing period. Topping the list was Los Angeles County's Inner Cabrillo Beach, among the worst beaches in the country for pollution that has been found to have high levels of sewage overflow and has been cited for its issues for more than a decade.

Connecticut
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Connecticut

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 62.9% (44 out of a total 70 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- Shady Beach: 10 out of 22 days tested (45.5%)
--- Byram Beach: 8 out of 19 days tested (42.1%)
--- Calf Pasture Beach: 8 out of 21 days tested (38.1%)

Connecticut's beaches show an average percentage of unsafe days at 16% during the testing period. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has developed a program to monitor and reduce various sources of beach pollution, which includes domestic animal and wildlife waste, soil erosion, boating activity, and faulty septic systems.

Delaware
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Delaware

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 60.9% (14 out of a total 23 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- Slaughter Beach: 12 out of 19 days tested (63.2%)
--- Broadkill Beach: 5 out of 18 days tested (27.8%)
--- Dewey Beach-Swedes: 4 out of 17 days tested (23.5%)

Delaware's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control tests the state's beach waters regularly during swimming season, Scientists from that organization issued a public advisory after a large number of shorebirds invaded Slaughter Beach, defecating into the waters and along the shorelines, which caused high levels of bacteria.

Florida
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Florida

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 71.5% (187 out of a total 261 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- South Beach (Key West): 22 out of 43 days tested (51.2%)
--- Robert J. Strickland Beach: 19 out of 26 days tested (73.1%)
--- Crandon Park—South: 19 out of 67 days tested (28.4%)

More than 71% of Florida's tested beach waters had some level of fecal bacteria during the sampling time frames. Concerns over poor water quality led some Florida cities to utilize the Clean Water State Revolving fund, which provides low-cost financing for water infrastructure.

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Georgia
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Georgia

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 73.1% (19 out of a total 26 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- St. Simons Island Lighthouse Beach: 9 out of 47 days tested (19.1%)
--- 5th St. Crossover (St. Simons Island): 8 out of 46 days tested (17.4%)
--- Tybee Island Strand: 6 out of 45 days tested (13.3%)

The state tests the bacteria levels at Georgia's beaches year-round, as opposed to just during the warmer months, issuing advisories to the public when bacteria reach unsafe levels. Some beaches have been placed under permanent advisories due to having continuously high levels of contamination.

Hawaii
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Hawaii

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 34.4% (76 out of a total 221 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- Kuliouou Beach: 10 out of 11 days tested (90.9%)
--- Hanalei Beach Co. Park: 9 out of 59 days tested (15.3%)
--- Niu Beach: 8 out of 10 days tested (80%)

Honolulu County, which has the largest population of all the islands, is home to Kuliouou Beach, which indicated possible contamination for 91% of the days sampling took place. The State of Hawaii's Clean Water Branch has worked to reduce water contamination, analyzing water quality on a regular basis, and working to increase community-based education on watershed management, as well as providing funding for projects relating to contamination control.

Illinois
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Illinois

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 100% (19 out of a total 19 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- 63rd Street Beach: 19 out of 101 days tested (18.8%)
--- Calumet South Beach: 18 out of 102 days tested (17.6%)
--- South Shore Beach: 17 out of 101 days tested (16.8%)

Illinois' beaches, located on the shores of Lake Michigan, showed possible contamination and unsafe swimming conditions for at least one day during the sampling period for all 19 of the beaches that were tested. Ongoing issues with sewage overflow discharge into the lake, as well as other environmental concerns, have led to the introduction of legislation to prevent the dumping of sewage into the Great Lakes.

Indiana
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Indiana

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 82.6% (19 out of a total 23 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- Jeorse Park Beach I: 28 out of 94 days tested (29.8%)
--- Jeorse Park Beach II: 20 out of 94 days tested (21.3%)
--- Whihala Beach West: 17 out of 93 days tested (18.3%)

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management began beach monitoring in 2002. The state's Lake Michigan Beach Monitoring and Notification Program works with local beach managers to test Indiana beaches regularly and notify the public of contamination.

Louisiana
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Louisiana

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 100% (23 out of a total 23 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- Lake Charles North Beach: 20 out of 30 days tested (66.7%)
--- Fontainebleau State Park: 19 out of 29 days tested (65.5%)
--- Rutherford Beach: 13 out of 30 days tested (43.3%)

The Louisiana Department of Health maintains an ongoing Beach Monitoring Program, testing water at various beaches in order to determine if water quality meets the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines. The tests are performed from April to October when warmer water temperatures can mean an increase in bacteria.

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Massachusetts
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Massachusetts

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 46% (257 out of a total 559 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- Tenean Beach: 44 out of 90 days tested (48.9%)
--- Kings Beach: 43 out of 88 days tested (48.9%)
--- Malibu Beach: 20 out of 87 days tested (23%)

Suffolk County's Beach Monitoring Program tests beach waters from May to September in order to track safety levels. City stormwater runoff is one of the primary causes of contamination in Massachusetts beaches.

Maryland
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Maryland

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 61.2% (41 out of a total 67 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- Ocean City Beach 3: 8 out of 28 days tested (28.6%)
--- Ocean City Beach 6: 6 out of 28 days tested (21.4%)
--- Ocean City Beach 4: 5 out of 28 days tested (17.9%)

As part of the BEACH Act, passed by Congress in 2000, Maryland established the Maryland Beaches Program. That initiative monitors bacteria and contaminants and issues safety advisories and closures as needed.

Maine
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Maine

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 49.2% (31 out of a total 63 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- Goose Rocks Beach: 12 out of 27 days tested (44.4%)
--- Riverside (Ogunquit): 7 out of 18 days tested (38.9%)
--- Little Beach: 4 out of 15 days tested (26.7%)

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection states that Maine beaches are generally safe. 2018 testing conducted as part of the Maine Healthy Beaches showed nearly 98% of beach days as being bacteria-free.

Michigan
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Michigan

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 39.8% (78 out of a total 196 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- South Linwood Beach Township Park: 13 out of 41 days tested (31.7%)
--- Lake St. Clair Metropark Beach: 10 out of 53 days tested (18.9%)
--- Pier Park: 8 out of 18 days tested (44.4%)

The EPA has made cleanup and restoration of the Great Lakes region a priority. Programs such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and Great Lakes Legacy Act are geared toward addressing pollutants such as contaminated sediment and environmental toxins.

Minnesota
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Minnesota

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 37.1% (13 out of a total 35 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- Park Point Sky Harbor Parking Lot Beach: 9 out of 31 days tested (29%)
--- Agate Bay Beach: 5 out of 18 days tested (27.8%)
--- Burlington Bay Beach: 3 out of 15 days tested (20%)

Minnesota is situated along the shoreline of Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes. As of June 2020, Sky Harbor Parking Lot Beach had already issued at least one "No Water Contact" advisory that season due to high E. Coli levels in the water.

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Mississippi
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Mississippi

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 100% (21 out of a total 21 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- Pass Christian West Beach: 44 out of 62 days tested (71%)
--- Waveland Beach: 43 out of 62 days tested (69.4%)
--- Bay St. Louis Beach: 38 out of 51 days tested (74.5%)

Mississippi's Gulf Coast beaches were sampled over a course of 46-62 days, with testing conducted at 21 beaches. All 21 beaches came back as having potentially unsafe water on at least one day. In 2019, the state had to close all of its mainland beaches, due to an outbreak of cyanobacterium, or blue-green algae, which commonly grows in polluted waters and can be toxic to both humans and animals.

North Carolina
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North Carolina

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 44.5% (93 out of a total 209 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- Colington Harbour Beach: 6 out of 33 days tested (18.2%)
--- Pamlico River—City Park in Washington: 5 out of 19 days tested (26.3%)
--- Public Beach Southside of Dawson Creek Bridge: 5 out of 20 days tested (25%)

Dare County's Colington Harbour Beach showed contamination for 6 of the 33 days it was tested, more than any other beach in the state. The North Carolina Coastal Federation made new commitments in 2020 to work on reducing beach contamination by implementing procedures to help reduce stormwater runoff, which is a huge contributor to the degradation of swimming and fishing waters.

New Hampshire
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New Hampshire

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 37.5% (6 out of a total 16 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- North Hampton State Beach: 7 out of 34 days tested (20.6%)
--- New Castle Town Beach: 3 out of 25 days tested (12%)
--- Wallis Sands Beach at Wallis Road: 2 out of 25 days tested (8%)

Almost half of New Hampshire beaches showed unsafe water conditions on at least one of the days during the testing period. The state's Department of Environmental Services Beach Program lists North Hampton State beach as having a total of 24 contamination advisories between 2006 and 2020.

New Jersey
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New Jersey

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 32.9% (73 out of a total 222 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- Beachwood Beach West: 9 out of 18 days tested (50%)
--- Barnegat Light Bay Beach: 9 out of 21 days tested (42.9%)
--- Windward Beach: 8 out of 21 days tested (38.1%)

Rain runoff and sewage overflows are thought to be major contributors to the unsafe ocean water along beaches in New Jersey. Groups such as Jersey Water Works, a collaborative to help improve the area's water infrastructure, are advocating for improvements to supply pipes, sewers and storm drains across the state.

New York
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New York

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 62.6% (219 out of a total 350 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- Tanner Park: 56 out of 79 days tested (70.9%)
--- Woodlawn Beach State Park: 43 out of 103 days tested (41.7%)
--- Sayville Marina Park: 34 out of 56 days tested (60.7%)

New York State Park beaches are tested on a weekly basis for possible contamination. Closures and advisories are issued based on test results and predictions of poor water quality, such as after heavy rainfall.

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Ohio
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Ohio

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 100% (54 out of a total 54 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- Maumee Bay State Park (Inland): 38 out of 58 days tested (65.5%)
--- Villa Angela State Park: 36 out of 85 days tested (42.4%)
--- Euclid State Park: 31 out of 71 days tested (43.7%)

Water tests in Ohio indicated potentially unsafe swimming water on at least one of the days at every one of the beaches tested. The Ohio Department of Health regularly monitors the bacteria levels at local beaches as part of its BeachGuard program, posting advisories and closures on unsafe swimming days.

Oregon
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Oregon

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 90% (18 out of a total 20 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- Seal Rock State Recreation Site: 13 out of 17 days tested (76.5%)
--- Nye Beach: 12 out of 14 days tested (85.7%)
--- Rockaway Beach: 9 out of 10 days tested (90%)

Eighteen of Oregon's 20 showed unsafe levels of bacteria on at least one of the testing days. In accordance with the Clean Water Act, the Oregon Health Authority tests beaches regularly for contamination, some of which is caused by rainstorm runoff.

Pennsylvania
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Pennsylvania

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 88.9% (8 out of a total 9 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- Erie Beach 11: 9 out of 32 days tested (28.1%)
--- Barracks Beach: 6 out of 29 days tested (20.7%)
--- Beach 1 East: 5 out of 32 days tested (15.6%)

Pennsylvania beaches averaged potentially unsafe water 10% of the days during the sampling period. The Erie County Department of Health, along with Presque Isle's Regional Science Consortium, the U.S. Geological Survey, and other research teams, created an E. Coli Taskforce, which monitors bacteria levels at beaches and works to improve water quality testing.

Puerto Rico
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Puerto Rico

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 68.6% (24 out of a total 35 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- Tropical Beach: 15 out of 32 days tested (46.9%)
--- Playa Guayanes: 11 out of 29 days tested (37.9%)
--- Playa Villa Lamela: 8 out of 30 days tested (26.7%)

More than half the beaches tested in Puerto Rico over a 27- to 32-day period showed unsafe levels of fecal bacteria. Weather disasters such as Hurricanes Maria and Irma have been a factor in water contamination levels, along with the accompanying heavy rainfalls of hurricane season.

Rhode Island
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Rhode Island

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 67.7% (44 out of a total 65 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- Easton's Beach: 14 out of 34 days tested (41.2%)
--- Scarborough State Beach—South: 13 out of 40 days tested (32.5%)
--- Third Beach: 9 out of 25 days tested (36%)

The Rhode Island Department of Health has made progress in reducing the number of potentially unsafe swimming days in recent years. The state is also home to organizations like Save the Bay that work with government offices to make changes within community infrastructures to help decrease runoff into the ocean water.

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South Carolina
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South Carolina

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 52.2% (12 out of a total 23 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- Myrtle Beach: 41 out of 50 days tested (82%)
--- Briarcliffe Acres: 18 out of 49 days tested (36.7%)
--- Surfside Beach: 16 out of 27 days tested (59.3%)

Myrtle Beach has worked to address ongoing contaminations issues along the shoreline. Initiatives include a $22.6 million proposal for improvements and changes to the infrastructure at Withers Watershed, a major drainage system that flows into the Atlantic Ocean.

Texas
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Texas

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 90.2% (55 out of a total 61 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- Sargent Beach: 96 out of 102 days tested (94.1%)
--- Sylvan Beach Park: 88 out of 89 days tested (98.9%)
--- Palacios Pavilion: 80 out of 95 days tested (84.2%)

The Texas Beach Watch program, funded by the EPA and the Texas General Land Office (GLO) tests recreational beaches on a weekly basis during peak swimming season and every two weeks the rest of the year. The program's site is updated regularly with current water quality information.

Virginia
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Virginia

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 61.7% (29 out of a total 47 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- Hilton Beach: 8 out of 15 days tested (53.3%)
--- King/Lincoln Park: 5 out of 17 days tested (29.4%)
--- Fairview Beach: 4 out of 15 days tested (26.7%)

The Commonwealth of Virginia has spent upward of $1 billion in the past decade to improve wastewater systems. The state has also committed to substantially reduce pollution in its rivers, streams, and bay by 2025.

Washington
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Washington

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 52.1% (38 out of a total 73 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- Dakwas Park Beach, Neah Bay: 10 out of 51 days tested (19.6%)
--- Little Squalicum Park: 8 out of 14 days tested (57.1%)
--- Pomeroy Park—Manchester Beach: 6 out of 17 days tested (35.3%)

The Washington Department of Ecology's BEACH Program regularly monitors the state's salt-water beaches from May – September, as well as selected beaches during the winter. Several have been issued permanent swimming advisories due to ongoing unsafe bacteria levels.

Wisconsin
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Wisconsin

- Proportion of beaches with at least one potentially unsafe day in 2019: 59.2% (61 out of a total 103 beaches tested)
- Beach sites with many potentially unsafe days:
--- South Shore Beach: 17 out of 101 days tested (16.8%)
--- Fish Creek Beach: 17 out of 21 days tested (81%)
--- Thompson West End Park Beach: 12 out of 31 days tested (38.7%)

The Great Lakes Coalition has worked to reduce pollution in Lake Michigan. One of these initiatives has included altering beach topography to slow stormwater from flowing into the lake and reducing runoff.

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