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Beach Water Quality FAQ
Current advisories
The latest water quality reports are available at   www.healthoregon.org/beach
 
Since 2003, state officials have used a federal Environmental Protection Agency grant to monitor popular Oregon beaches and make timely reports to the public about elevated levels of fecal bacteria. Oregon state agencies participating in this program are the Oregon Department of Human Services, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
 
Contacts:         
Bonnie Widerburg, DHS,  971-673-1282
Robert Smith, Oregon Parks & Recreation, (503) 986-0665, cell (503) 551-3528
 
Technical contacts:        
Jennifer Ketterman, DHS: 971-673-0431
Larry Caton, DEQ: 503-229-5491

Is the beach closed?
The beach is not closed. An advisory issued by the Department of Human Services cautions against water contact because of elevated levels of harmful bacteria. The beach remains open for activities that don’t include playing in the water.

What type of bacteria?
Tests check ocean water for enterococcus, a type of fecal bacteria. Enterococcus is present in the intestinal tract of warm-blooded animals, including humans.

Why test?
Microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, protozoa, etc.) are a natural part of the environment. When concentrated in high numbers, they can cause illnesses in people who come in contact with contaminated water. By testing the water, we can let visitors know when there is a higher risk of illness.

Is it dangerous to swim in water with high levels of bacteria?
Possibly, exposure could cause symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps, chills and fever. Exposure also may cause skin rashes and infections of the eyes, ears, nose and throat.
 
A higher risk exists for children and individuals with compromised immune systems. Lower levels of contamination can affect these individuals.
 

How does the water get contaminated?
Contamination comes from many sources. Enterococcus can enter marine waters from a variety of sources, such as streams and creeks, storm water runoff, animal and seabird waste, failing septic systems, sewage treatment plant spills or boating waste

Why have we seen an increase in advisories?
Oregon began monitoring and notifying the public in 2003. Before 2003, a testing program did not exist. Water conditions probably have not changed much during the last several years. The increase in monitoring catches the higher level of contamination when it occurs.

What precautions should I take if there is an advisory?
When DHS issues a water contact advisory for a particular beach, you should avoid contact with marine water at that beach and don’t do things that may cause you to swallow water, such as swimming, surfing, diving and kayaking. Pet owners should keep their pets out of the ocean because animals also may become ill.

Should I cancel my trip when an advisory is in effect?
Absolutely not! There are plenty of activities to do at the beach that don’t involve going in the water – beachcombing, building sandcastles, flying kites, visiting local shops and much more.

How often is the water tested?
During the busy season, June through September, the Department of Environmental Quality tests water samples weekly, every two weeks or monthly depending on location. Different locations are tested at different intervals based on several factors: how many people use a beach, previous test results and the proximity of storm water outfalls and/or sewage treatment plants nearby. From October through May, DEQ samples monthly for trend analysis.

Is drinking water affected by this contamination?
No. The drinking water is fine. These advisories are for ocean water only.

Where can I get more information on the program?
Information is available on the DHS website at www.healthoregon.org/beach and http://www.coastalatlas.net/learn/topics/waterquality/beach/, or you can contact program staff at (503) 731-4012.

How will I know if an advisory has been lifted?
Signs are posted at beaches testing high for enterococcus. When tests indicate bacteria levels are at normal levels the signs are removed.