Sea to Shining Sea

by Dave on October 15, 2009

Cast a glance down any of Delaware’s beaches and you will find kids of all ages in the surf, playing the day away. Those beaches represent a large portion of the state’s tourism draw, and contribute a great deal to the state’s economy every year.

In a boost to that tourism draw, the National Resources Defense Council announced last week that Delaware’s beaches were tops in the nation for the cleanliness of our beach waters.

The annual “Testing the Waters” report found Delaware to be first in beachwater quality with only 1% of samples exceeding national quality standards.

In fact, only two of the state’s beaches measured in above those standards, and both had beach closings in 2008: Holt’s Landing and the Tower Road Bayside section of the Delaware Seashore State Park.

The four main beaches, Lewes, Rehoboth Beach, Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island, all were recognized with four out of five stars, topped only by Ocean City in the region. Ocean City was one of a dozen spots nationwide to earn five stars.

The report has been published for 19 years, and a lot has changed over that time, according to Nancy Stoner of the National Resources Defense Council.

“When we started doing report, our beaches weren’t being monitored,” said Stoner. “As a result of our report and other advocacy organizations, Congress passed the Beach Act in 2000. That provided money for state and local monitoring.”

As a result, the NRDC is looking toward the future for more advanced montitoring. They’re currently studying faster (2-3 hour) monitoring using DNA instead of bacteria, which can take 24 hours to produce results.

So what is the problem? Stoner says the leading source of contamination is stormwater.

“As we have more and more development along the coast, stormwater is growing faster as a source of beachwater contamination,” added Stoner. “For the Chesapeake Bay, the population growth over the last decade has been 8% and the land development has been 41%.”

And the clean water is worth preserving and protecting, according to Stoner.

“Half of the economic output of the US comes from coastal areas,” Stoner said. “For tourism, it’s very important to maintain those high ratings.”

So know that as you take a dip in the Atlantic Ocean, you’re doing it in some of the cleanest beach water in the nation.
This article first appeared in Coastal Sussex Weekly, August 6, 2009.

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