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Disaster in the Gulf: tracking oil washing ashore on beaches

David Beckman

Posted July 12, 2010

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For twenty summers, NRDC has published Testing the Waters, a national report on beach water quality.  Our report has been one of NRDC’s most influential.  TTW first drew attention to the lack of information available to the public on beach water quality—and the presence all too often of pathogens in bathing waters.   TTW has subsequently been instrumental in helping to motivate a massive increase in beach water quality testing across the U.S.; it also played a major role in amendments to the Clean Water Act (commonly referred to as “the Beach Act”) that also improved and standardized monitoring.  It’s a report that identified a problem and led to major progress to solve that problem.  And it continues to be a barometer of how clean our beaches are in the U.S.

The next edition of Testing the Waters, covering 2009, will be released on July 28.  But today we are adding a feature to our website  that collects and reports how the tragic oil spill is affecting beaches along the Gulf coast.   A special Gulf-edition, if you will, of our annual report.  Pulling this information together is a challenge.  The spill is ongoing.  Information is spotty and dynamic.   And hard to come by:  the status of local beaches is reported typically at the local government level.   But we are making every effort to use a combination of official websites as well as telephone calls to local officials to create an interactive, map-based picture of where beaches have been closed or advisories issued related to oil.   The good news:  many beaches are open; the bad news is that far too many have been affected.   Check it out and let us know how we can improve it.

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