OCEAN CITY – In just a few months, people will begin flocking to the state and local beaches.
But President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for FY 2013 includes eliminating federal funds that go to states to monitor bacteria in the waters at the beach, and local groups on the Eastern Shore are concerned about the impact of the cuts.
“We have had, historically, bacteria problems in the Coastal Bays,” Dave Wilson, executive director of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, said. “We haven’t seen too many bacteria problems on the beach, but the reason we know that is because of the water quality monitoring.”
The Environmental Protection Agency has allocated almost $10 million this year in grants that go towards monitoring the water quality at the beaches and notifying the public if there is a problem, the agency said in a statement.
Maryland’s share for 2012 is expected to be $266,000. Federal funding for this year is similar to the amount each year for the past decade. The BEACH (Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health) Act was passed by Congress in 2000.
The Maryland Department of the Environment expects to continue to work closely with local jurisdictions to make sure the waters are safe.
The Maryland Coastal Bays Program, a part of the National Estuary Program that partners with local governments and national and state agencies to monitor the coastal bays, needs water quality monitoring data so it can adequately manage the waters of the bays, Wilson said.
“Our fear is that the beach monitoring shortcoming will be made up from some of the monitoring that the state does in the coastal bays,” Wilson said.
If someone does get sick from bacteria in the water, consistent monitoring will help determine when it’s safe to go back in, Wilson said.
“Without that in Ocean City, the whole tourism industry in Ocean City could be in quite a quandary,” he said.
For the beaches to legally remain open, they must be monitored, Maryland Department of the Environment officials said.
Nationally, the Surfrider Foundation is fighting to see that the funds remain in the president’s budget. There is a petition on its website calling attention to the issue.
Shelly Dawson, chairman of the Ocean City chapter, said water quality testing should be increased.
“There’s more pollutants that we’re not testing for,” he said, “so instead of cutting back, we should probably be increasing the parameters of the testing.”
However, local officials are diligent when it comes to keeping the area clean, Dawson said.
“We’re very concerned about how clean our backyard is,” he said. “That’s why the unknown and the unseen cleanups that happen every night and every morning in Ocean City during the season, people don’t realize how much money is spent locally in keeping the area clean.”