Jersey beaches still beset by pollution, report finds

New Jersey saw a spike in beach closings last summer, a national environmental group has found.

It blamed, in part, the wet weather of last year. Heavy rainstorms can overwhelm sewer systems, resulting in discharges to waterways.  In coastal areas, the stuff can wind up in the ocean and along beachfronts in pretty short order.

"The results confirm the nation’s seashores continue to suffer from stormwater runoff and sewage pollution that can make people sick and harm coastal economies," said the Natural Resources Defense Council in a press release.

This is the 22nd year the organization prepared such a report. It found that, overall, America's beaches saw the third-highest number of closings and "advisory" days.  The number of days jumped 20 percent in New Jersey, compared to 2010.

The report,  Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches,  analyzes government data on beachwater testing results at more than 3,000 locations nationwide.

Beachwood Beach West in Ocean County was included on a nationwide "repeat offender" list, "indicating persistent contamination problems over the last five years," the NRDC said.

“This time of year, New York and New Jersey beaches are flooded with visitors from near and far, but unfortunately they’re often inundated with dangerous pollution that can make swimmers sick as well,” said NRDC senior attorney Lawrence Levine. “Last year – thanks in part to Hurricane Irene and record rainfall – this mess led to a massive uptick in beach closings in the area. Fortunately, we know how to make our beaches safer, and the region is starting to embrace greener solutions that can lead to fewer interrupted trips to the beach.”

The New Jersey Sierra Club responded to the report, saying in a press release that "Governor Christie’s policies are only making the problem worse. His administration is taking the side of special interest and developers over protecting our beaches and ocean. The Christie Administration is rolling back beach access and water quality rules, letting the health of Barnegat Bay continue to deteriorate, and is refusing to take a stance on off-shore drilling."

The group said that "beaches in Brick Township have been closed due to jellyfish overpopulation and beaches in Brielle, Spring Lake and Lake Como are closed when it rains. Brown tide outbreaks are occurring along the northern coast. Last summer, Seawood Harbor in Brick experienced horrific smells from rotting vegetation as the Barnegat Bay hit a record high of 91 degrees. Beaches were closed due to jellyfish, clam beds closed due to pollution, and loss of eel grass and other ecological indicators are getting worse."

The New Jersey-based group, Clean Ocean Action, called for Congress to restore beach program funds and said New Jersey should update its rules and reduce pollution.

“The recent waste wash-up and beach closures in Long Beach Island show the devastating impact of pollution,” said Cindy Zipf, Executive Director Clean Ocean Action. “Clean waters benefit public health, marine life, the coastal economy, and New Jersey’s families and tourists who want to enjoy the beach. That is why it is unconscionable for EPA to zero-out funding and for the state of New Jersey to lag so far behind in water quality protection rules.”

Its analysis of the report's findings:

• 226 ocean and bay beaches were tested

• 132 closing and advisory days last year, an increase from 109 in 2011. There was a 29% increase in the number of closings alone. There would be more if all counties posted advisories for single samples.

• Only Monmouth County posted advisories at the beach and DEP posted them online for exceedances.

• 17% (23) of closing/advisory days last year were due to elevated bacteria levels,

• 5% (6) were due to advisories issued for a sewage spill or overflowing manhole

• 79% (103) were preemptive,i.e., without waiting for monitoring results due to rainfall and known problems with bacterial levels.

• 3% of samples exceeded the standard, an increase from 2% in 2010.

• New Jersey ranked 4th in the nation (out of 30 states) for cleanest beaches based on number of samples exceeding national standards in 2011 (lowest to highest).