State Summary: New Jersey

Ranked 7th in Beachwater Quality (out of 30 states)
4% of samples exceeded national standards for designated beach areas in 2012

Protecting swimmers from bacteria, viruses, and other contaminants in beachwater requires leadership. Federal officials must help clean up polluted stormwater runoff—the most commonly identified cause of beach closings and swimming advisories—by developing national rules that require pollution sources to prevent stormwater where it starts by retaining it on-site.

The Environmental Protection Agency must also set beachwater quality standards protective of human health and provide states with the support they need to monitor beach pollution and notify the public when pollution levels are high.

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New Jersey 2012 Beachwater Quality Summary

Reported Sources of Beachwater Contamination
(number of closing/advisory days)

  • 102 (42%) other contamination sources
  • 74 (30%) unknown contamination sources
  • 62 (25%) stormwater runoff
  • 7 (3%) sewage spills/leaks

New Jersey has 655 public coastal beaches lining 127 miles of Atlantic waters. Coastal water quality monitoring is conducted through the Cooperative Coastal Monitoring Program (CCMP), which is administered by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP).

What Are the Water Quality Challenges and Improvements in New Jersey?

Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy was one of the largest storms ever to hit the northeastern United States. Killing 159 people and causing an estimated $70 billion in damage in eight states, Sandy was the most destructive hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season and the second-costliest hurricane in U.S. history. New Jersey's coastline was severely damaged by the hurricane: Dunes were destroyed, homes were washed away, and infrastructure was damaged. Floods overwhelmed sewage treatment plants and flushed 10 billion gallons of raw and partially treated sewage into New York and New Jersey waterways. In May 2013, the EPA announced it would provide New Jersey with $229 million in grant funds for repairs and sewage treatment improvements. This grant will help defray the estimated $2.7 billion it will take to repair the damage to sewage treatment plants caused by Sandy.

Towns along the New Jersey coast continue to rebuild beaches, dunes, and coastal infrastructure. Preseason water quality sampling did not detect exceedances of the state's swimming and shellfishing standards.

Cleaning Up Beachwater in Monmouth and Ocean Counties

The NJDEP is working with local stakeholders to address elevated levels of fecal indicator bacteria that are discharged to the ocean from Wreck Pond's outfall following rainstorms. Source tracking efforts at Wreck Pond, a tidal pond in Monmouth County, have shown that sources of pollution include stormwater runoff and failing sewage infrastructure in the community surrounding the pond. The towns of Spring Lake and Sea Girt have committed to conducting infrastructure assessments of their entire sanitary and storm sewer systems within the watershed, which includes videoing and GIS/GPSing of these systems. This assessment will be completed in 2013. The Bureau of Marine Water Monitoring is conducting a 48-hour monitoring plan to capture data for an entire storm event; it is also sampling water quality at the four bathing beaches surrounding the outfall after every rain event during the 2013 beach season. NJDEP recently launched a website that aggregates all research, reports, and analytical data for the watershed and includes an interactive map displaying all analytical data.

In 2012, wet-weather monitoring continued at 10 Ocean County river beaches to determine the effect of rain at those beaches. Dye studies were also conducted to gather additional data. Additionally, the NJDEP partnered with the Ocean County Department of Engineering to map existing sanitary and stormwater infrastructure and outfall locations. In 2012, the NJDEP's Bureau of Marine Water Monitoring investigated a complaint in South Toms River, near Beachwood Beach, and found a community of live-aboard vessels in an upstream marina that were without sanitary connection. The NJDEP, South Toms River Township, and the Ocean County Health Department worked together to relocate the residents and clean up the facility, which included a boat scrapyard.

Identifying the Source of Pollution at Beaches in Beachwood

More than 25% of the water quality samples at Beachwood Beach have exceeded the standard for designated beaches each year since the 2005 swim season, when NRDC began tracking water quality monitoring data. In 2012, the borough of Beachwood began a project working with the Ocean County Health Department and Ocean County Planning Department to track down sources of bacterial pollution. The effort includes sampling water quality at stormwater outfalls, improving mapping of the area’s drainage system, and studying the movement of pollution along the shoreline in various weather conditions. While this study is ongoing, Beachwood has also enhanced its beachwater quality sampling by taking additional samples after rain events and has instituted a policy of closing the beach for 24 hours after any rainfall of more than 0.25 inch over a 12-hour period. The borough and the county intend to use the results of the study to reduce identified pollution sources.

Demonstrating the Rapid Test Method at Bay Beaches

Current approved methods for determining fecal indicator bacteria counts in beachwater depend on growth of cultures in samples and take at least 24 hours to complete. Because of this, swimmers do not know until the next day if the water they swam in was contaminated. Consequently, there is a great deal of interest in technologies that can provide same-day beachwater quality results, and the EPA and NJDEP have been field-testing one of them, the quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) rapid test method, since 2007. This rapid method identifies genetic sequences in order to enumerate bacteria.

In 2012, EPA and NJDEP finalized and published results of a rapid beach advisory demonstration project that was conducted at four bay beaches in Ocean County (Windward Beach in Brick Township, Avon Road in Pine Beach Borough, Beachwood Beach in Beachwood Borough, and Anglesea in Ocean Gate Borough). Samples were collected and analyzed using qPCR, and swimming advisories were issued on the basis of the qPCR results. These results were compared with the standard membrane filtration results when they became available the following day. Test results show that the traditional culture method and the rapid test are in agreement 82% of the time. Although the qPCR method can be more labor intensive than conventional monitoring techniques, it assesses beachwater quality much more quickly.1

Reducing Trash Wash-Ups on New Jersey's Beaches

Sewer systems in and around the New York/New Jersey Harbor are designed so that excess flows are discharged to harbor waters during periods of wet weather. These excess flows often contain floating debris made up of litter and toilet waste such as hygiene products. When discharged to the New York/New Jersey Harbor Complex, the floating debris collects in slicks that can exit the harbor and wash up on beaches. The multiagency Floatables Action Plan, which has been in place since 1989, involves several means of controlling floating debris, such as helicopter surveillance to locate slicks, skimmer vessels fitted with nets that collect debris, floating booms that trap debris near sewer system discharge points for later collection, and sewer system improvements intended to maximize the ability to retain floating debris. These methods have prevented tons of floating debris from reaching the harbor and New Jersey beaches. In addition, the NJDEP's Clean Shores Program, in which state inmates collect floatable debris from the shorelines of the Hudson, Raritan, and Delaware estuaries and barrier island bays, removes thousands of tons of trash and debris from New Jersey shorelines each year.

What Does Beachwater Monitoring Show?2

In 2012, New Jersey reported 455 coastal beaches. Of these, 222 (49%) were assigned a monitoring frequency of once a week; 129 (28%) were classified as "bracket" beaches that are monitored as needed (these are adjacent to regularly monitored beaches; if high bacteria concentrations are found at a regularly monitored station, sampling is conducted at bracket stations to determine the extent of the affected area); and 104 (23%) were not assigned a monitoring frequency. In 2012, 4% 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 state standard in 2012 were Beachwood Beach (Beachwood) (35%), Avon Road in Pine Beach (Pine Beach) (29%), East Beachwood Beach West (Beachwood Boro) (Bracket Beach) (27%), West Beachwood Beach West (Beachwood Boro) (Bracket Beach) (27%), and Windward Beach (Brick) (25%), all in Ocean County. Ocean County had the highest exceedance rate of the daily maximum standard in 2012 (7%), followed by Atlantic (3%), Monmouth (3%), and and Cape May (2%). 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.

New Jersey Percent of Samples Exceeding the State's Daily Maximum Bacterial Standard for 204 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 New Jersey's Sampling Practices?

    The sampling season runs from mid-May to mid-September. In addition to regular beachwater monitoring for bacteria concentrations, the NJDEP conducts aerial surveillance of nearshore coastal waters six days a week during the summer and routinely inspects the 17 wastewater treatment facilities that discharge to the ocean.

    The NJDEP determines sampling practices, standards, and notification protocols and practices at coastal beaches throughout the state. Samples are taken 12 to 18 inches below the surface in water that is between knee and chest deep. Locations for monitoring stations are selected by local or county health departments and are chosen on the basis of proximity to a potential pollution source. If there is no pollution source nearby, ocean sampling locations are chosen to represent water quality at several nearby beaches. Every recreational bay beach is sampled.

    Once an exceedance of bacterial standards is found, daily monitoring is conducted until the beachwater meets standards. States that monitor more frequently after an exceedance is found will tend to have higher percent exceedance rates and lower total closing/advisory days than they would if their sampling frequency did not increase after an exceedance was found.

    In addition to fecal coliform and enterococcus, New Jersey monitors for floatable debris and chlorophyll levels that may indicate algal blooms, and samples phytoplankton to determine algae concentrations. Algae samples are collected when remote sensing data indicate an increase in chlorophyll levels in a specific area. If a harmful algal bloom is identified, county and local health officials are notified, closing information is posted on the NJDEP web page and phone line, and local beach managers close beaches as necessary.

    How Many Beach Closings and Advisories Were Issued in 2012?3

    Total closing/advisory days for 245 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less increased 87% to 245 days in 2012 from 131 days in 2011. For prior years, there were 109 days in 2010, 181 days in 2009, and 209 days in 2008 (120 of which were caused by a criminal dumping event). The dramatic increase is likely due to two factors. First, in June 2012, the Long Beach Island health officer closed 103 beaches on the island due to a wash-up of floatable debris. All beaches were closed for one day to clear debris and protect public health. Additionally, the Ocean County Health Department began issuing advisories for the first time, which increased the total number of advisories in New Jersey from previous years.

    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. For the 245 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less, 31% (76) of closing/advisory days were due to monitoring that revealed elevated bacteria levels, 41% (101) were preemptive due to other reasons, 25% (61) were preemptive due to heavy rainfall, and 3% (7) were preemptive to due known sewage spills or leaks.

    Only those beach closings ordered by local health officials are included here because these are the only closings that are recorded by CCMP. Data are not available for closings issued because of conditions not directly related to contamination, such as rough seas, beach maintenance projects, shark sightings, and fish and clam wash-ups.

    How Does New Jersey Determine When to Warn Visitors About Swimming?

    New Jersey issues closings when bacteria levels exceed standards. New Jersey's standard for marine beachwater quality is a single-sample maximum for enterococcus of 104 cfu/100 ml. A geometric mean standard is not applied when making beach closing decisions.

    If bacteria levels exceed the single-sample standard, the beach is resampled immediately. If the second sample exceeds the standard, the beach is closed. Resampling is conducted in conjunction with a sanitary survey of the beach. County and local health departments may, at their discretion, issue swimming advisories after one exceedance of the bathing standard. In 2011, Monmouth County was the only county to issue swimming advisories when routine monitoring revealed that standards were exceeded. In 2012, advisories were issued in both Monmouth and Ocean Counties when bacteria levels were found to exceed the single-sample standard. These advisories convert to closings if resampling confirms the exceedance.

    If high bacteria concentrations are found at an ocean or bay station, sampling is conducted linearly along the beach to determine the extent of the affected area. This "bracket sampling" can result in an extension of a beach closing to contiguous lifeguarded beaches.

    Four Monmouth County ocean beaches around the Wreck Pond outfall (Brown South and York Avenue beaches in Spring Lake and The Terrace and Beacon Boulevard beaches in Sea Girt) are automatically closed for 24 hours after the end of all rainfall events that exceed 0.1 inch or cause an increased flow in storm drains, and are closed for 48 hours from the end of all rainfalls greater than 2.8 inches within a 24-hour period. Lifeguards prohibit swimming near any parts of these beaches where the stormwater plume is observed to be mixing with water within the swimming area, and lifeguards can close a beach at any time if a plume is observed. Two bay beaches in Monmouth County also have preemptive rainfall standards: L Street Bay Beach in Belmar (more than 0.1 inch in 24 hours) and the Shark River Beach and Yacht Club (more than 1 inch in 24 hours).

    Beaches in New Jersey are closed if there is a known sewage spill that is suspected of contaminating beachwater. Health and enforcement agencies in New Jersey can close a beach to protect public health at any time.

    New Jersey 2012 Monitoring Results and Closing/Advisory Days4

    County
    Beach
    Tier
    Assigned Monitoring Frequency
    Total Samples
    % of samples exceeding
    state standards
    Closing or Advisory days
    View
      NOTE: Data and state-specific information for this summary were collected from U.S. EPA, direct conversations with beach managers in the state, state grant reports to U.S. EPA for BEACH Act funding, and the state water quality website. The information in this state summary reflects current data as of June 7, 2013.
    1. James A. Ferretti, Hiep V. Tran, Sarah J. Peterson, Virginia Loftin, "Rapid Method Demonstration Project at Four New Jersey Marine Beaches Using Real Time Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction (qPCR)," Marine Pollution Bulletin, forthcoming 2013.
    2. If the 2012 percent exceedance values in this summary don't match, why not? The value at the top of the page reflects the proportion of samples exceeding the national single-sample maximum standard for designated beach areas. The values in the "What Does Beach Monitoring Show?" section reflect the proportion of samples exceeding the state standard, which in some states is more or less stringent than the national designated beach standard. Additionally, only samples from a common set of beaches monitored each year from 2008-2012 are included in the bar chart. Because some beaches were not monitored in each of those years, the percent exceedance for this subset of beaches may not have the same value as the percent exceedance for all of the beaches monitored in 2012.
    3. Year-to-year changes in closing/advisory days should not necessarily be interpreted as an indication of the level of bacterial contamination. In some states and localities, the number of beaches and/or beach monitoring frequency may not be consistent from one year to the next, and beaches may be closed or under a swimming advisory for reasons other than known or suspected bacterial contamination. Other reasons include, but are not limited to, chemical/oil spills, medical waste washing up on shore, dangerous currents, lack of lifeguards, etc. In addition, because NRDC's totals of closing/advisory events focus on those events lasting six consecutive weeks or less, those tallies do not account for longer-duration closings or advisories. For trends in water quality, please refer to NRDC's year-to-year comparison of percent exceedance rates of state water quality standards.
    4. Bracket beaches are adjacent to regularly monitored beaches; if high bacteria concentrations are found at a regularly monitored station, sampling is conducted at bracket stations to determine the extent of the affected area.

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