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List of State Officials - Martin O'Malley, Governor; Anthony Brown, Lt. Governor; Shari T. Wilson, MDE Secretary 

Volume III, Number 2

 June 2007

eMDE is a monthly publication of the Maryland Department of the Environment. It covers articles on current environmental issues and events in the state. 

Keeping an Eye on Our BEACHES

By Heather Morehead, Science Services Administration

Click on photo to view larger image

Photo 1 - Sandy Point State Park in Anne Arundel County 

Photo 2 - Sandy Point State Park in Anne Arundel County 

Cunningham State Falls Park in Frederick County 

Photo of Director Rich Eskin 

Back to this issue's cover page 

As Maryland’s beach season has already started and will last until Labor Day, citizens and visitors alike are able to enjoy our beautiful shores. To ensure that beach water quality is safe for water contact recreation, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) coordinates monitoring and public notification processes with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) and local health departments. This work is done with the help of funds appropriated by the U.S. Congress, which support activities required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act Program. This year’s $269,250 grant funding was officially presented to MDE during the annual beach season kick-off event held in Ocean City.

MDE Works with Local Governments

In Maryland, the Beaches Program is administered by MDE, with the responsibility for monitoring water quality and notifying the public of beach advisories delegated to the local health departments. During each beach season, MDE distributes BEACH Act funds to the local health departments and DHMH. The money is used for the collection and analysis of beach samples and to issue any necessary beach-related advisories.

Protecting Public Health

Beach water quality is routinely monitored for indicator bacteria, even though these bacteria are not necessarily the cause of illness in swimmers. The indicator bacteria, such as Enterococci or E. coli, have been selected for monitoring purposes because they are easier to detect than the actual disease-causing organisms, and they are a good measure of recent waterborne bacterial contamination from human or animal sources.

Why Do Beaches Close?

Beach advisories are issued when water quality standards are exceeded, or in cases where there is a known pollution source that may pose a risk to swimmers, such as a sewage spill. When the results of water samples collected at a beach exceed water quality standards, local health departments are required to collect additional water samples if necessary and issue appropriate public advisories. Per the National Beach Guidance, the public advisories should include a notification that the water is unfit for swimming, the reason for the advisory, the time and duration of the advisory, the location involved, and the contact information for the local health department issuing the advisory. When the follow-up tests indicate that standards are met, the local health department will lift the advisory.

Before Heading to the Beach

Beachgoers can check the Internet for advisories prior to leaving for the beach. There are three ways to check:

  1. By visiting the beaches911.org website,
  2. Checking county health departments’ websites,
  3. Contacting the local health departments – contact information can be obtained from MDE’s website.

Once at the beach, beachgoers should pay attention to signs informing them of any existing advisories.

Sandy Point State Park

During last year’s beach season, water samples collected from Sandy Point State Park beaches indicated that bacteria densities exceeded Maryland water quality standards. Although the specific cause could not be determined, MDE continues to work closely with the Anne Arundel County Health Department and Sandy Point State Park staff to make sure that there are no known sources of pollution that could impact beach water quality at the park.

In a special effort, MDE staff performed two shoreline surveys of the surrounding areas (one last summer and one this spring). However, neither of these surveys identified pollution sources that could cause high bacteria counts at the beach. The Sandy Point State Park beaches will be opened during this year’s beach season, and their water quality will continue to be monitored along with 209 other public beaches statewide.

In order to increase visitors’ enjoyment of the Sandy Point State Park beach, MDE in conjunction with the Anne Arundel County and the Sandy Point State Park staff has taken additional measures to keep the beach area clean of litter and trash and promote safe and healthy beach habits. Sandy Point State Park staff installed new diaper-changing stations at the bathhouses. MDE and the Anne Arundel County Health Department worked together to design and post bilingual signs to remind visitors about safe bathing and personal hygiene practices.

Click here for additional information about the Maryland Beaches Program or contact MDE at (800) 633-6101, x3906 or (410) 537-3618. Beach users and the public can also obtain information regarding Maryland beaches by contacting their local health department.


©2007 Copyright MDE

Editorial Board
Maryland Department of the Environment
1800 Washington Boulevard, Baltimore, MD 21230