BATON ROUGE – Beachcombers, wave runners and surf fishermen now can make better decisions about entering the surf at three of Louisiana’s public beaches. Signs alerting beachgoers to the status of the water quality atFontainebleau, Grand Isle and Cypremort Point state parks were unveiled today at a ceremony at Fountainebleau.
The Louisiana Departments of Environmental Quality and Health and Hospitals and the Office of State Parks have worked together to launch the three-beach pilot program that will later expand to other public beaches. Louisiana is responding to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act of 2000. The BEACH Act directs EPA to assist states in developing appropriate water quality standards and provides funds for coastal beach monitoring programs. EPA is working closely with Louisiana to meet the requirements of the BEACH Act.
A grant from the EPA allowed DEQ and LDH to develop water quality standards for Louisiana’s coastal recreational waters and beaches. The standards are designed to determine when it is safe to swim in the waters based on actual test results.
According to Dr. Fred Cerise, secretary of LDH, the health agency will test water samples on a weekly basis to determine if the water is safe for recreational purposes.
“This is an improvement over our earlier method of simply alerting people that there are inherent risks to swimming in natural water bodies,” Cerise said. “Now, we will rely on actual test results to make a determination whether people should enter the water at these beaches.”
Water quality is based on naturally occurring or manmade pollutants (or pathogens) in coastal recreational waters. Samples are taken and tests are then conducted to measure the number of pathogens and pathogen indicators. When the established water quality standards are exceeded, public notification is made.
According to DEQ Secretary Mike McDaniel, this system will determine whether or not water quality changes are due to outside influences such as hard rains, sewage or other pollutants.
“We know that water quality can change due to changing weather conditions, sewage or agricultural run-off,” he said. “If the tests show higher than normal levels of bacteria or other pollutants, we can take steps to determine the source and eliminate or reduce these risks to health.”
Angèle Davis, secretary of the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, said her agency is pleased to help citizens make better decisions about the safe use of the State’s natural environment.
“This program will be a benefit to those who enjoy our park system,” she said. “More importantly, the information that is learned through the monitoring process will allow us to develop trends about water quality, with the end result being the elimination of the causes of poor water quality. Our public beaches will be come even cleaner.”
McDaniel added that the program is an example of state agencies working together to help citizens.
“This could not be done successfully without the participation of the three agencies, local government, the grant from the EPA and the participation of local environmental groups,” McDaniel added. “By working together we can make this state better for the people who live here and more attractive to those who want to relocate here.”
For more information, visit http://www.ophbeachmonitoring.com, or contact Bruce Champion with the Office of Public Health at (225) 763-3571.