(USA TODAY) - Skip beaches after rainstorms and avoid swimming near storm drains, says an environmental group that today releases its assessment of the nation's best and worst beaches in 2010.
Stormwater and sewage, along with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, were culprits in a 29% increase in beach closings and health warnings last year, the Natural Resources Defense Council says. "People need to take a look at their beach's water quality, along with packing the sunscreen," the NRDC's David Beckman says. "Beaches that don't tell you their conditions might make you more cautious."
The report compiled state and federal data from nearly 3,300 beaches and found more than 24,000 days of closings or advisories at ocean or Great Lakes beaches. The group concludes that last year was the second-worst for beach closings in its two decades of monitoring.
The data are from 2010, but Beckman says risks of unhealthy water can continue in 2011, depending on weather. "Often after a rainstorm, you'll have a beautiful day and you won't see the bacteria growing in the water," he says.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that beaches host 2 billion visitors a year. Beach monitoring tests look for fecal microbes that cause stomach illnesses.
Storm runoff is the main reason beaches see spikes in offshore bacteria that lead to closings, says environmental biologist Rachel Noble of the University of North Carolina, who was not part of the report. "One caution is that some states do more testing than others, which might make them look worse," Noble says.
Beckman says the NRDC report includes testing frequency in rating 200 popular beaches nationwide. They include four "superstar" beaches with unblemished water-quality results since 2006. Two are in Delaware, one in New Hampshire and another in Wisconsin.
"We deserve it," says City Manager Gregory Ferrese of Rehoboth Beach, Del., one of the four. "We pride ourselves on keeping the beaches clean and on our water quality."
You can check on 200 popular beaches by clicking here.