Alaska BEACH Grant Program
The Alaska Beach Program Description
The Alaska Beach Monitoring Program is part of a nationwide effort to decrease the incidence of water-borne illness at public beaches under the federal Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act, funded by an EPA BEACH grant to DEC. Since 2002, the Alaska Beach Monitoring program has been collecting water quality samples at coastal recreation beaches throughout the state. Beaches were selected based on risk factors identified in community surveys. The program provides grants to local communities, tribal governments, and watershed councils to sample beach water for organisms (fecal coliforms and enterococci bacteria) that indicate the presence of fecal contamination. By notifying the public if a sample exceeds the allowable levels, the program helps to prevent illnesses that could result from exposure to contaminated beach water.
Communities that have participated in the Alaska Beach program include Anchor Point, Anchorage, Dillingham, Douglas Island, Haines, Homer, Hoonah, Juneau, Kasilof, Kenai, Ketchikan, King Salmon, Naknek, Nome, Petersburg, and Wrangell.
Identifying Alaskan Beaches
The Alaska Beach Program defines a beach as "any shoreline where recreational activities may bring a person into complete or partial body contact with marine water." This definition may include sections of a shoreline that do not appear to look like a sandy beach.
A state-wide Recreational Beach Survey was performed in 2003 to gather information from coastal communities about the recreational use of beaches in their area. The 60 responses that were received identified 203 recreational-use beaches as areas that were used for recreational purposes. These beaches were located in 53 coastal Alaskan communities. The survey indicated that some beaches may be more likely to have a higher levels of bacteria contamination than others. These high priority, or Tier 1, beaches, are the focus of the Alaska Beach Program.
A tiered monitoring structure for general testing of recreational waters was developed because Alaska does not have an extensive road system and easy access to microbiological laboratories. Tier 1 beaches include shorelines in more populated areas of the state, which are on an established road system and are within practical distance of an Alaska-certified microbiological laboratory. Practical distances are required because the microbiological samples need to travel from the recreation use beach to the laboratory for processing within a 6-hour sample holding time.
Grant funds were used in the communities of Kenai, Ketchikan, and Hoonah. Sampling was conducted by local non-profits, DEC and tribal entities in cooperation with the local land representatives.
How Do I Get Involved?
If you are interested in participating in the Alaska's Beach Monitoring Program, please contact Alaska Beach staff to complete a beach survey. Your responses will help us rank your beaches based on the probability of fecal contamination, and human exposure to that pollution during recreation.
Laura Eldred, 907-376-1855