Concerns grow for healthy beach program

Joy Wyman, a Boca Grande resident, was relieved to read about the healthy state of her local beaches due to the Environmental Protection Agency-funded Beach Grant Program when she discovered in an email from the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation that the program is in danger of being defunded.

“In this day and age, we should get as much as we can to be on top of (the health of the beaches),” Wyman said. “I think it’s crazy that they’re considering on cutting this.”

The cut in funding stemmed from the Obama administration’s budget for 2014 released in April.

EPA’s Beach Grant Program funds beach water testing efforts and ensures that health standards are applied consistently in coastal states across the country.

The proposal to eliminate this program will seriously endanger the health and safety of the over 100 million beachgoers and swimmers across the nation and the vitality of U.S. coastal, tourism-based economies that are worth more than $80 billion annually, according to a Surfrider Foundation press release in April.

“If you take away funding for water-quality testing, you put families and children at risk,” says actor and Surfrider Foundation supporter David Chokachi in the release. “Everyone has a right to know if the water at the beach is safe to swim in.”

Wyman said the program helps the community become better stewards to the environment.

“We can correct some of the problem but we have to be on top of it,” she said.    Florida Healthy Beaches program, made possible by the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act, allows weekly testing of beach conditions to measure enterococcus bacteria levels for environmental safety.

“By defunding the BEACH Act program, state and local governments will now be solely responsible for water quality testing,” Chokachi said in the release. “Unfortunately, the reality is that some states rely entirely on the EPA grants to support their beach programs, so these states may stop their beach water quality monitoring altogether. Many other states will likely test less often, use less safe standards, or could drop monitoring completely during the offseason, when surfers tend to dominate ocean use.”

The problem hasn’t affected local operations, according to officials.

“Minor federal cuts did not affect the number of beach water testing samples we have planned to test for next grant year,” said Ashley Carr, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health.

Karl Henry, environmental administrator for Charlotte County Health Department, said the county has program federal funding through July 2014.

“I know that Charlotte and Lee counties’ health departments had to cover the difference for weekly testing since program funding was cut in 2011,” he said. “I don’t know about Lee County now, but we’re still covering the difference today and if we didn’t, we would only be afforded biweekly testing.”

Henry said Charlotte County will take a wait-and-see approach.

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About Tom

Tom Chang is a freelance journalist with a background in multimedia journalism and web publishing. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Journalism and Media Studies from the University of South Florida St.Petersburg. He graduated in 2004 with a Bachelors Degree in Mass Communications at USF Tampa. Tom's interests include a little bit of everything from entertainment to sports. He also wishes to delve into creative writing writing sci-fi/fantasy stories. Tom was recently the Online Editor for USF St. Petersburg's the Crow's Nest, he joined the staff in January 2010 where he started freelance writing, photographing, copy editing and later became a staff writer. Tom’s freelance experience in journalism amassed a wide range of companies including Creative Loafing, The Focus Magazine, Lutz News, Examiner.com, and Tampa Tribune.
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