Alabama 2012 Beachwater Quality Summary
Reported Sources of Beachwater Contamination
(number of closing/advisory days)
- 21 (100%) unknown contamination sources
Alabama has 97 coastal beaches stretching along 50 miles of the Gulf of Mexico coast and 70 miles of bay and island shoreline. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) administers the state's beachwater quality monitoring program.
What Are the Water Quality Challenges and Improvements in Alabama?
BP Oil Disaster Continued to Affect Alabama's Beaches in 2012
Alabama's beaches were impacted by the BP oil disaster that began on April 20, 2010, with the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig. Oil flowed from the damaged well for nearly three months, until it was capped on July 15, 2010. Although all oil spill advisories in Alabama were lifted by the end of July 2010, shoreline contamination assessment teams continued to conduct cleanup activities on a daily basis, and warning signs were posted at all of Alabama's Gulf Coast beaches throughout 2011 and into 2012 because of the occasional presence of tar mats and tar balls from the spill. To the naked eye, many beaches may appear to be free of tar balls on any given day. However, storms cause sand to move and the beach can turn over quickly, exposing tar balls that have been buried under clean sand.
What Does Beachwater Monitoring Show?
In 2012, Alabama reported 97 coastal beaches. Of these, 8 (8%) were assigned a monitoring frequency of more than once a week, 12 (12%) once a week, and 5 (5%) every other week; 72 (74%) were not assigned a monitoring frequency. In 2012, 8% of all reported beach monitoring samples exceeded the state's daily maximum bacterial standard of 104 colonies/100 ml. The beaches with the highest percent exceedance rates of the daily maximum standard in 2012 were Volanta Avenue (18%) and Spanish Cove (18%) in Baldwin County; Dog River, Alba Club in Mobile County (17%); and Kee Avenue (16%) and Mary Ann Nelson Beach in Baldwin County (15%).
Mobile County had the highest exceedance rate of the daily maximum standard in 2012 (10%), followed by Baldwin (7%). NRDC considers all reported samples individually (without averaging) when calculating the percent exceedance rates in this analysis. This includes duplicate samples and samples taken outside the official beach season, if any.
Alabama Percent of Samples Exceeding the State's Daily Maximum Bacterial Standard for 25 Beaches Reported 2008-2012*
* Please note that only samples from a common set of beaches monitored each year from 2008-2012 are included in the bar chart.
What Are Alabama's Sampling Practices?
Monitoring is conducted throughout the year, with more frequent monitoring from May to September.
ADEM, along with the Alabama Department of Public Health and U.S. EPA, determines sampling practices, locations, standards, and notification protocols and practices throughout the state. Samples are collected 6 to 12 inches below the surface, usually in knee-deep water. Whether a beach is monitored and how frequently it is monitored are determined using a quantitative ranking scheme that weighs the amount of use, the potential for contamination from nearby sources, and other important factors such as high use by the elderly or the very young.
Once an exceedance is reported, samples are collected daily until the standard is met. States that monitor more frequently after an exceedance is found will tend to have higher percent exceedance rates and lower total advisory days than they would if their sampling schedule did not increase after an exceedance was found.
How Many Beach Closings and Advisories Were Issued in 2012?
Total advisory days for 15 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less decreased 16% to 21 days in 2012 from 25 days in 2011. In prior years, there were 195 days in 2010 (including beach advisories due to the Gulf oil spill), 34 in 2009, and 14 days in 2008. There were no extended or permanent events in 2012. Extended events are those in effect more than six weeks but not more than 13 consecutive weeks; permanent events are in effect for more than 13 consecutive weeks. All advisory days in 2012 were due to monitoring that revealed elevated bacteria levels.
How Does Alabama Determine When to Warn Visitors About Swimming?
Alabama does not issue beach closings; the state's policy is to issue advisories only. Advisories are posted on the ADEM website, and signage at the beach.
An enterococcus single-sample maximum of 104 cfu/100ml is the standard used to issue beach advisories in Alabama. No geometric mean standard is applied when making advisory decisions.
Beaches are given green status when sampling results meet the standard. When sample results exceed the standard, the status changes to yellow; this indicates that there may be an increased risk of illness associated with swimming in such water, and that the beach is being immediately retested. When a sample exceeds the standard, there are no overriding factors that can be taken into account before converting to yellow status. If a resample, taken the next day, also exceeds the standard, a public health advisory (red status) is issued. A red status indicates that repeated tests show bacteria level exceed the standard and swimming in the water may increase the risk of illness.
There are no standards that mandate preemptive advisories in response to rainfall or sewage spills, but full-scale advisories for all sites have been issued by the county and state health departments after hurricanes and during the 2010 BP oil disaster.
Alabama 2012 Monitoring Results and Closing/Advisory Days