WASHINGTON, DC - In an effort to monitor water quality and clean up Rhode Island beaches, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) today announced that Rhode Island beaches will receive up to $212,000 in federal Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) grants.

“Rhode Island is the Ocean State and clean water is vital to our economy and public health.  This funding will help monitor water quality and notify beachgoers of any risks that may arise,” said Reed, who helped pass legislation establishing these grants.  “We want to make sure visitors know our beaches are beautiful and safe.”

Senator Reed is the Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment, which oversees federal funding of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  The EPA administers BEACH grants to help local authorities monitor water quality and enhance notification programs to protect beachgoers from unsafe water.  However, the Obama Administration 2013 budget proposes cutting all funding for states to monitor contamination at beaches starting next year.

“We are facing a difficult budget environment, but reducing water quality testing and draining federal support from coastal protection could negatively impact the economy.  I am concerned that ending the BEACH program would lead to less water testing and make beaches across the country less safe,” said Reed, who has helped secure over $2 million in BEACH grants since 2001. 

According to the EPA, bacterial contamination is the leading cause of beach closures across the U.S.  In 2010, Rhode Island reported 45 saltwater beach closure events that encompassed 70 closure days.  Rhode Island’s maritime industries and waterfront attractions make significant contributions to the tourism industry, which generates over $2.31 billion for the state’s economy each year according to the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation.

Local governments and the state parks department are responsible for openings and closures of beaches.

The Rhode Island Department of Health Beach Monitoring Program provides real-time water quality and safety information concerning 134 monitored sites, including both fresh water and saltwater beaches. After applying for and receiving the grants, the Rhode Island Department of Heath will distribute the federal funds to help implement monitoring and notification programs across the state. 

Thanks to federal BEACH grants, the number of samples collected by the Rhode Island Department of Health has increased from 281 in 1995 to 1,988 in 2010.  Also, beach owners and managers and non-profit groups under Beach Program guidance collected additional saltwater samples.