June 27, 2007

PROTECTING WATER QUALITY ON AMERICA'S BEACHES

ENVIRONMENT & PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE

Mister Chairman:

Thank you for holding this hearing today.

 

We have a number of important witnesses to hear from, so I will keep my opening statement brief.  

 

This hearing is especially timely.   Today the high temperatures in Maryland are expected to be in the 90s.   The sun is out.   School children are on summer vacation.   For many Marylanders, that means it's time to head to the beach.  

 

Earlier this week I was in Ocean City, Maryland, one of the premier beach spots on the mid-Atlantic coast.   On our drive back home, as we crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, we could look down on Sandy Point State Park, which is one of the most popular beaches in the Chesapeake Bay.  

 

Both of these vacations spots were crowded with families, swimming, surf fishing, and just getting their feet wet on a long, sandy walk.

 

Across the state, people are enjoying some of the beauty of our state.   In every instance, these beachgoers have a right to know that the water quality meets all EPA standards.

 

Unfortunately, that's not always the case.

 

Yesterday, with the temperatures above 90 degrees, two Maryland beaches were closed because of high bacteria counts in the water.   The Charlestown Manor Beach and the Buttonwood Beach, both in Cecil County, were closed by the local health department, which advised the public to stay out of the water.  

 

The day before yesterday, two additional beaches were closed because of excessive bacteria levels.   The Great Oak and Gregg Neck beaches in Kent County had to be closed to protect human health.

 

These closures, unfortunately, are not new and they are not uncommon.

 

The Maryland Department of the Environment monitors 81 beaches in the state.   Last year 18 of them, or 22 percent, had at least one advisory during beach season.  

 

 A total of 31 beach notification actions were reported.   Half of them lasted more than a week, including persistent problems with high bacteria counts at Sandy Point State Park.

 

Clearly, we need to continue the monitoring programs for the valuable information they provide us.   But as the data reveal, we still have a long way to go to provide beach-goers in Maryland and around the country with water quality they have every right to expect on these hot summer days.

 

The federal grants to states under the 2000 BEACH Act are being put to good use.   We need to continue and expand that effort.   But we also need to make some key improvements, including a provision to make these funds available to investigate and mitigate contamination sources.  

 

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today, and to working with you, Mr. Chairman, in taking some additional steps to deal with this important issue.  

 

People in Maryland and across the nation are ready to hit the beach.   Let's make sure that they can actually go into the water.      

 

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.