FAQ's about BEACH Grant

What is the BEACH Grant Program?
The Alaska BEACH Grant Program studies Alaska's beaches for pollution of bacteria, specifically, fecal coliform and enterococci.
BEACH stands for Beach Environmental Assessment & Coastal Health. This act was signed into law in October 2000 because people were concerned about becoming sick while using their local shores/beaches, especially in places where people come in direct contact with the water. The Act enabled the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to award grants to help governments implement beach water monitoring, and notification programs if monitoring revealed a problem. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), with the assistance from many groups and the general public, is developing a pilot beach monitoring effort to evaluate the possible risk to recreational beach users in the state.

How did the BEACH program identify the location of recreation-use beaches in Alaska? A Recreational Beach Survey was conducted to gather information from coastal communities, tribes and local governments about recreational uses of beaches in their area.

Who received an Alaska Recreational Beach Survey? Three hundred Recreation Beach Surveys were sent to potential respondents in 125 coastal communities. Potential respondents included: the Alaska Coastal Management District contacts, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, community leaders listed by the Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development, Federally recognized Tribes listed by the EPA, DEC, and interested members of the general public.

How many recreational-use beaches have been identified in Alaska? In 53 coastal communities of Alaska, 204 recreational-use beaches were identified. Based partly on information collected in the survey, the beaches were ranked by their potential risk of beach users being exposed to marine water polluted by fecal contamination from a variety of sources.

How concerned should you be about using the beach; what is the risk of getting sick? There is currently no evidence that Alaskan recreational waters are impaired by fecal contamination but people should still be concerned. Nationally, scientific evidence documenting the rise of infectious disease caused by microbial organisms in recreational waters continues to grow. Alaska is using BEACH grant funds to conduct a pilot testing program to confirm water quality at high-use recreational beaches is good. This also gives DEC basic information about Alaska beach health. The good news is, thus far, DEC believes the risk of getting sick is very low.

How does the Alaska BEACH program identify potential risks? From the survey, DEC analyzed information about types of recreational activities and the degree of water exposure, seasons and levels of beach use, and types and locations of potential pollution sources to rank the beaches according to possible exposure risk. Additional information is being collected, and a pilot water quality monitoring effort will be conducted to evaluate potential risks identified from the surveys.

How do you get sick from using the beach? Water that contains pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and protozoa (polluted water) can cause stomach ache, diarrhea, or ear, eye, and skin infections when it comes in contact with skin or when people swallow it. These pathogens are commonly associated with fecal (human or animal waste) types of pollution.

When would you be most likely to get sick from swimming in marine water? You would be most likely to get sick from swimming or wading in marine water near sources of fecal pollution. After significant storm events or spring breakup, pathogen levels in recreational waters near these sources may be even higher.

If a beach is identified as having a potential risk to people, then what? Water samples will be collected at high-use beaches during the water quality monitoring program by local communities. In fecal coliform, enterococci or shellfish exceedence scenarios, if the sample is determined to be legitimate after QA/QC review, DEC will provide suggestions to the local community so they can decide whether issuing an advisory or conducting a more intensive sampling plan is necessary.

If a beach is identified as having a potential risk to people, then what? Water samples will be collected at high-use beaches during the pilot water quality monitoring program. From there DEC will be able to assess the actual risk and notify the public accordingly.

Who will conduct the monitoring? DEC issues to local communities and tribal governments for development and monitoring.

What will be monitored? The program will monitor marine water quality adjacent to high-use beaches. DEC will be sampling beach water for bacteria that indicate the presence of fecal contamination resulting from pollution from sewage treatment plants, boating waste, malfunctioning septic systems, animal waste, and other sources.

For more information contact:
Gretchen Pikul
410 Willoughby Ave
Juneau, AK 99801
(907)465-5023
gretchen.pikul@alaska.gov