State Summary: Ohio

Ranked 30th in Beachwater Quality (out of 30 states)
21% 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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Ohio 2012 Beachwater Quality Summary

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

  • 1,278 (100%) unknown contamination sources

Ohio monitors 63 public and semipublic beaches along nearly 53 miles of Lake Erie shoreline. The state's beachwater quality monitoring program is administered by the Ohio Department of Health (ODH). The ODH contracted with the University of Toledo and Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer district and four county health districts (Ottawa, Erie, Cuyahoga, and Lake) to conduct the monitoring and notification program in 2012.

What Are the Water Quality Challenges and Improvements in Ohio?

Predictive Models

Ohio has been using a predictive model called "nowcast" at three of its Lake Erie beaches: Huntington Beach and Edgewater State Park in Cuyahoga County and Maumee Bay State Park in Lucas County. In 2012, the Lake County General Health District began using the nowcast model at Mentor Headlands State Park Beach and Fairport Harbor Beach to test the validity of the model, but did not use it to make advisory decisions.

The model relies on environmental factors including rainfall, turbidity, and/or wave height to predict E. coli levels. Predictive models are useful because they allow advisories to be issued the day that bacteria levels are suspected to be high. In contrast, when advisories are issued on the basis of E. coli counts determined by culture methods, they are issued the day after standards are exceeded because it generally takes 24 hours to obtain culture results. Many times, the culture results of samples taken on the day a beach is placed under advisory reveal that the water quality was actually acceptable on the day of the advisory.

In 2012 at Huntington and Edgewater State Park beaches, nowcast-based decisions about notifications were more protective of public health than decisions based on bacterial monitoring in 2012. However, nowcast modeling at Mentor Headlands State Park Beach and Fairport Harbor Beach in Lake County was not as protective because it produced a number of false negatives: the model predicted bacterial counts under the state maximum, but bacterial monitoring showed that there were actually exceedances. The inaccuracy of nowcasting at Mentor Headlands State Park and Fairport Harbor may have been due to scattered, spotty storms throughout the summer and the use of weather data from Ashtabula and Burke Lakefront Airport. In some cases, one of the data locations received rain while neither of the Lake County beaches did. The nowcast model for this area will be reviewed for the 2013 season.

The Erie County Health Department continued to develop models for three of its beaches in 2012. The tested model performed well at Huron West (76.9% accuracy) and Vermilion West (82.7% accuracy) but did not perform well as well Huron East (48.9% accuracy). The model will be updated as continued testing determines which variables provide the most accurate results in 2013.

What Does Beachwater Monitoring Show?1

In 2012, Ohio reported 63 coastal beaches, 9 (14%) of which were assigned a monitoring frequency of daily, 35 (56%) more than once a week, 17 (27%) once a week, and 2 (3%) were not assigned a monitoring frequency. In 2012, 21% of all reported beach monitoring samples exceeded the state’s daily maximum bacterial standard of 235 colonies/100 ml. The beaches with the highest percent exceedance rates of the state standard in 2012 were Camp Perry in Ottawa County (70%), Arcadia Beach in Cuyahoga County (57%), Lakeview Beach in Lorain County (52%), Bay View West in Erie County (49%), Port Clinton (Deep\Lakeview) in Ottawa County (47%), Lakeshore Park in Ashtabula County (44%), and Wagar Beach in Cuyahoga County (44%). Lorain County had the highest exceedance rate of the daily maximum standard in 2012 (30%) followed by Cuyahoga (29%), Ottawa (27%), Lucas, (22%), Erie (17%), Ashtabula (15%), and Lake (13%). 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.

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.

Ohio Percent of Samples Exceeding the State's Daily Maximum Bacterial Standard for 42 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 Ohio's Sampling Practices?

    The monitoring season generally runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The state recommends sampling practices, standards, and notification protocols and procedures to local entities that participate in the beachwater quality monitoring program. Guidance recommends that samples be taken in water that is 3 feet deep, 1 foot below the surface. For the most part, monitoring is conducted in the area of the beach used most by the public. Beaches are prioritized for monitoring on the basis of visitor use and water quality history, so beaches attracting the most visitors and/or having a potential for contamination (Tier 1) are sampled the most frequently.

    All of the Lake Erie beaches identified by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources are monitored at least weekly, with the majority sampled at least four times a week. Many of the beaches in the program are sampled daily or as frequently as laboratory availability will allow. The monitoring frequency of these beaches does not increase after a bacterial exceedance has been found, but if an exceedance is discovered at a beach that is monitored only once a week, resampling may be conducted on the next business day.

    How Many Beach Closings and Advisories Were Issued in 2012?2

    Total closing/advisory days for 408 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less increased 19% to 1,278 from 1,072 days in 2011. For prior years, there were 1,259 days in 2010, 1,012 days in 2009, and 783 days in 2008. In addition, 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 408 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less, 97% (1,243) of closing/advisory days were due to monitoring that revealed elevated bacteria levels, and 3% (35) were preemptive, based on the results of computer modeling.

    How Does Ohio Determine When to Warn Visitors About Swimming?

    Local jurisdictions have the authority to close beaches and to issue advisories. Beaches are rarely closed because of elevated bacterial counts alone. Ohio uses an E. coli single-sample maximum standard of 235 cfu/100 ml for beach advisory decisions. No geometric mean standard is applied when making advisory decisions. The state recommends that local authorities issue advisories when the bacterial standard is exceeded. Beachgoers can access advisory information on the Ohio Beach Guard website.

    There are no preemptive rainfall standards at beaches in Ohio, but beach managers may issue preemptive rainfall advisories if they feel that rain has compromised water quality. Beach managers may also restrict beach access because of sewage or other pollution spills, or because of any other threat to public health.

    Ohio 2012 Monitoring Results and Closing/Advisory Days

    Assigned Monitoring Frequency
    Total Samples
    % of samples exceeding
    state standards
    Closing or Advisory days
      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. 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.
    2. 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.


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