It was a beach day in Sea Bright and a press conference day for Sen. Bob Menendez and Congressman Frank Pallone.
They were at the beach to support re-authorization of the BEACH Act, a year-2000 law that set uniform standards around the nation for water testing. The advocacy group Clean Ocean Action says it’s time to strengthen the law.
“Almost 20 years later we really need an upgrade because we’ve learned a lot since,” said Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action. “We’ve discovered a lot of sources of pollution. There’s been a lot of reduction in the amount of sewage, but it’s still getting out there, and especially after rainstorms. And unfortunately the testing programs don’t require testing after rainstorms.”
New Jersey tests its water once a week on Mondays. The federal government pays for it — about $470,000 a year.
The BEACH Act provides about $9 million total for water-testing throughout the nation, but the Trump administration is threatening to zero it out, according to Menendez.
In June, 15 beaches in Monmouth and Ocean Counties experienced one-day bacterial advisories, but they cleared up in a day.
Sea Bright sits at the northern tip of the Jersey Shore at the point closest to New York City. Mayor Dina Long isn’t worried about water contamination.
“I think right now we have a reasonable degree of confidence that the water is safe, because right now we have water testing that confirms that it is,” said Long. “If that water testing goes away, I think it might be a different situation.”
Menendez said the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg first championed the BEACH Act. Now, he and Pallone will fight to restore the funding.
“It’s the continuous coastal monitoring that the Beach Act funds that detected high levels of bacteria at some our beaches this summer,” said Menendez. “It protected swimmers and surfers until they got word it was safe to go back in.”
Menendez hailed Pallone as the author of the act in the House of Representatives.
“It really comes down to what Sen. Lautenberg would always call ‘the right to know,’” said Pallone. “In other words, the idea is that people should be able to, on their own, find out what’s going on in terms of the environment and be able to protect themselves.”
Despite last month’s one-day spike in bacteria levels, people here say the water today is terrific.
“The water right now is beautiful. There’s no scum lines coming in. It’s like crystal clear,” said Sea Bright lifeguard Ray Reynolds.
“If I can see my toes when I’m in the water, I’m happy,” Deal resident Sarine Tebele said.
Test results taken today are publicized within 24 to 48 hours. The upgraded BEACH Act would speed that up to four hour notification.
“This bill keeps swimmers safe from sewage,” said Zipf.
Menendez and Pallone say they’ll introduce their updated BEACH Act next week and they’re hopeful. As one put it, a lot of members have shorelines in their districts.