Feds Soak Water Testing Funds

Obama's new budget would strip funding from federal water monitoring program

| posted on April 19, 2013

Federal funds will no longer be allocated to water-quality testing, which may lead counties to drop these programs entirely.

In a cost-trimming move that has ocean-minded environmental watchdog groups on alert, President Obama’s 2014 federal budget proposal, released on April 10, axes funding for the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act, a program that provides nearly $10 million annually for water-quality monitoring of the nation’s beaches.

Passed by Congress in 2000, the BEACH Act initially set aside $30 million in federal funds to be divvied up by the states to help standardize and strengthen testing programs for bacteria levels at beaches across the country. Congress has never allocated the full amount however, and most years, the federal funds released are closer to $10 million.

The BEACH Act is overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and in addition to federal funds, the act also provides a common water-quality criteria for all states to measure their beaches against. State and local government efforts to keep their beaches clean are evaluated by the EPA, and federal officials are available to assist with recommendations and plans to help ensure safe water conditions.

Florida, California, New York, Texas, and Hawaii collect the bulk of BEACH Act money. California, according to the Santa Monica-based non-profit environmental group Heal the Bay, gets about one-third of its water monitoring budget from the federal government.

But in an effort to slash federal spending, the Obama administration has again proposed eliminating all funding for the BEACH Act in 2014. Last year’s budget also would have gutted the act, but coastal Congressional leaders successfully fought to maintain the funding. The White House argues that after over a decade of federal assistance, state and local governments have had plenty of time to develop their own water-quality standards, monitoring programs, and funding resources.

California Congresswoman Lois Capps disagreed when the same cuts were proposed in 2012. “Frankly I find the [EPA’s] justification absurd,” she remarked. “Without this federal funding, county environmental health officials may have to drop beach water testing and public notification programs.”

According to Heal the Bay’s Matthew King, California’s counties each receive the same amount of federal funding, regardless of size, meaning that smaller or poorer counties may fund their beach monitoring programs entirely with federal dollars. The Surfrider Foundation fears that some states may curtail testing altogether, and that without federal funding, many beaches won’t be monitored in the winter offseason, when tourists have mostly left and surfers are the primary beachgoers.

“We know if it’s offshore and 3-to-5 [feet] that water quality may not be top of mind for many surfers,” noted King. “But they do have the right to know the latest pollution data and what they may be swimming into before deciding to suit up.”

  • Scott

    Dude is blowin it. I guarantee they don’t want to continue to test water because there going to allow more offshore drilling, which further compromises the quality of our oceans, lakes and streams. Get your priorities in line man! Our children will be swimming in toxic sludge in 20 years, and for what? Temporarily fulfilling our oil needs only to realize it will never be enough. Maybe if we just drill a little more we will find the honey-pot, idiots!

  • Bill Murry

    Someone could then make a fortune if they could figure out a way to make and sell test kits to the general public, if they actually worked surfers would buy loads of em.

  • Geo

    They don’t need to drill offshore when the stuff on land is going to be some of the most productive ever. (with fracking) But there probably is a good amount of sweet light crude offshore.

  • Bolt Thrower

    You mean to tell me the great Obama is f-ing us over?

  • Janet J. Wasson

    I think water testing funds used for monitoring the quality of water in the beach should not be cut. Everybody loves the beach and we are supposed to be ensured that beach water is of good quality.

  • Dylan Morse

    Great article. 30 million is less than 3 percent of what the combined cost of advertising alone was for the 2012 presidential election. I’m sure trimming congressional entitlements and benefits would free up a whole shit ton of money for us to use on ocean minded endeavors.

  • J. B. Jovi

    Folks, I’ve followed this issue very closely for 2+ decades and I think we need to self fund or work with surfrider and develop test kits and do it ourselves. I have seen the government fail to report/lose the data when pollution exceeded acceptable levels time and time again, particularly when its a result of their actions (e.g. sewer pipe break due to underfunded infrastructure repair). We
    need to do the tests ourselves, share the data and just be aware because if you
    think the government is going to look out for you, you are living on a prayer.