Welcome to Maryland's Healthy Beaches Program
The beauty of Maryland's coastline and beach recreation areas attract local citizens, and out-of-state visitors. With a little planning, practicing healthy beach habits can be as easy as remembering your sunscreen. It can start with this site, where we'll fill you in on the how the program works, provide access to program resources and communications tools, link you to our partners on the Federal, State and municipal level, and offer some friendly advice to help make sure that all you take home from your day at the beach is a little bit of sand in your shoes and lots of happy memories.
How the Maryland Beaches Program Works
In 2000, Congress passed the BEACH Act and provided funding to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to improve beach monitoring in coastal states. Maryland’s Beaches Program was established to protect the health of visitors to public bathing beaches. This program is administered by Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). Local health departments are responsible for monitoring and notifying the public about the health of Maryland’s beaches. Maryland’s beach season runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Pollution, Water Quality, and Monitoring
Good beach water quality is important for the safety and health of swimmers. Water quality can deteriorate due to pollution caused by runoff after storms, trash, debris, or even sewage. Other sources that can cause poor water quality at beaches include failing septic systems, boat waste discharges, and wastes originating from pets, wildlife and farm animals that may runoff into the water after storms. At crowded beaches water quality may even be impacted by bathers themselves.
Disease-causing microorganisms (or pathogens) occurring naturally or associated with untreated sewage and animal waste can pose a health threat to swimmers. Because there are so many potential pathogens, the Maryland Beaches Program monitors “indicator organisms” to assess recreational water quality. Indicator organisms such as Enterococci and E. coli are two types of bacteria commonly found in the gut of warm-blooded animals and are used to indicate a recent source of pollution at a beach.
While swimming in natural waters is not risk free, monitoring for indicator bacteria provides a way to minimize potential health risks that may affect beach water quality.