State Summary: Oregon

Ranked 10th in Beachwater Quality (out of 30 states)
5% 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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Oregon 2012 Beachwater Quality Summary

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

  • 4 (100%) unknown contamination sources

Oregon has 92 beaches lining 197 miles of Pacific Ocean coastline. The state’s beachwater quality monitoring program is administered by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA).

What Are the Water Quality Challenges and Improvements in Oregon?

Cannon Beach

The Ecola Court stormwater outfall, which flows in a stream across Cannon Beach in Clatsop County before emptying into the ocean, has a history of elevated fecal indicator bacteria levels. This is a popular location for children to play, and many adults use the outfall to wash sand off their feet when they leave the beach. The city of Cannon Beach works with the Oregon Beach Monitoring Program to test for enterococcus weekly. The city has also taken steps to better warn the public about the potential health effects of contacting the water in the outfall, such as posting the weekly test results online.

What Does Beachwater Monitoring Show?1

In 2012, Oregon reported 92 coastal beaches, of which 3 (3%) were assigned a monitoring frequency of once a week and 12 (13%) every other week; 77 (84%) were not assigned a monitoring frequency. In 2012, 2% of all reported beach monitoring samples exceeded the state’s daily maximum bacterial standard of 158 colonies/100 ml. The beaches with the highest percent exceedance rates of the state standard in 2012 were Nye Beach in Lincoln County (14%), Mill Beach in Curry County (7%), and Rockaway Beach in Tillamook County (7%). Lincoln County had the highest exceedance rate of the daily maximum standard in 2012 (6%), followed by Curry (4%), Tillamook (2%), Coos (2%), and Clatsop (1%). There were no sample exceedances in Lane County. 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.

Oregon Percent of Samples Exceeding the State's Daily Maximum Bacterial Standard for 12 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 Oregon's Sampling Practices?

    OHA, together with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), determines sampling practices, locations, standards, and notification protocols and practices throughout the state. Samples are collected and processed by a DEQ employee who travels the coastline in a mobile lab. Samples are collected at ankle to knee depth in the middle of typical bathing areas.

    The Oregon Beach Monitoring Program monitors beaches with historically higher bacterial levels and recreational use during the peak season from Memorial Day to Labor Day. In alternate years at the beginning of the peak season, OHA evaluates beaches and sample locations to determine whether they will be monitored that season and the next; this ensures that high-priority beaches will be monitored. This reevaluation occurred prior to the 2012 summer season. To determine which beaches receive high priority for monitoring, the program evaluates the number of people recreating in the water, previous water quality data, proximity to known and suspected pollution sources, and public comments received on a draft list.

    Due to a lack of human resources available to conduct sampling, Oregon was able to monitor only 16 beaches regularly during the 2012 summer season, a reduction from the 25 beaches that were sampled in 2011.

    Water samples are taken near known or potential pollution sources. For example, Oregon samples freshwater inputs (creeks that flow across the beach) at many of its beaches, and these inputs are in many cases more likely to exceed water quality standards than the beachwater itself. There are typically three beachwater sampling stations per beach in addition to creek sampling stations, if any. Additional marine samples are collected within 72 hours, of a monitored beachwater exceedence to ensure the exceedence is not an anomaly. The program also conducts follow-up monitoring after known sewage spills and major pollution events. States that monitor more frequently after exceedances are found and after pollution events tend to have higher percent exceedance rates and lower total closing/advisory days than if sampling frequency did not increase.

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

    Total advisory days for 2 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less decreased 82% to 4 days in 2012 from 22 days in 2011. For prior years, there were 67 days in 2010, 106 days in 2009, and 86 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 2 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less, all 4 advisory days in 2012 were due to monitoring that revealed elevated bacteria levels.

    How Does Oregon Determine When to Warn Visitors About Swimming?

    In Oregon, the public is guaranteed free and uninterrupted use of all beaches along the coastline; therefore, beach advisories are issued but closings are not. Oregon uses a single-sample maximum enterococcus standard of 158 cfu/100 ml for beach advisory decisions in marine waters. This standard corresponds to the EPA’s standard for moderate full-body-contact recreation but is less strict than the agency’s designated beach area standard of 104 cfu/100 ml. The geometric mean of sampling results is calculated for tracking trends only, not for issuing advisories.

    The state does not have preemptive standards for rainfall but does issue preemptive advisories after a known sewage spill or major pollution event where the potential exists for bacteria indicator levels to exceed the state standard.

    Oregon beachgoers are notified when state water quality standards are exceeded through a 24-hour beach advisory hotline information posted online and through targeted emails and GovDelivery notifications. Additionally, press releases are sent to the media.

    Oregon 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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