On July 26, 2019 the Maine DEP issued this statement regarding water quality at the state's beaches.A recent report by the Environment America Research and Policy Center titled “Safe for Swimming? Water Quality at Our Beaches” has generated a lot of interest in beach water quality in Maine. The information referenced in that report for the State of Maine was generated by the Maine Healthy Beaches (MHB) Program. This is a voluntary program administered by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) with the support of local beach managers and volunteers who collect water quality samples throughout the summer (Memorial Day to Labor Day).While the headlines pulled from the report suggest problems with water quality at Maine beaches, the reality is that 93 percent of all samples collected in 2018 by the MHB program were below Maine’s EPA-approved threshold for safe recreation in marine waters and 97.2 percent of beach days in 2018 were free from contamination advisories and closures.While there are occasions where high bacteria counts are observed at Maine’s beaches, the majority of these are related to rain storms that result in stormwater runoff carrying contaminants from upland areas to the beach. An exceedance of the safety threshold does not necessarily mean that someone swimming at that location will get sick, but rather it is an indicator that the risk of getting sick is increased. The municipalities where exceedances have occurred, in conjunction with the State, are actively working to identify and address any potential sources contributing to high bacteria at the beach. Furthermore, because Maine’s water quality is typically very good, the MHB program intentionally locates monitoring sites near freshwater inputs (streams, rivers, storm drains) or other suspect areas to be as protective of public health as possible.
To learn more about the MHB program, read the 2018 Season Summary Report to EPA, or check the status of MHB participating beaches visit: http://mainehealthybeaches.org/.