The greatest cause of coastal water quality impairment is bacteria.1 Elevated bacteria levels may indicate risks to human health, leading to advisories and/or closures of valued coastal beaches and shellfish growing areas.
Currently, two programs in Maine assess coastal water quality and identify potential pollution sources. The Maine Healthy Beaches (MHB) Program is a statewide effort to monitor water quality and protect public health on Maine’s coastal beaches. Funding is provided by the US EPA, and beaches are managed according to estab- lished bacteria standards for marine recreational waters (see Table 2). The MHB Program is a unique partnership among municipalities, state parks, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension/Sea Grant, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, nonprofit organizations, and state and federal agencies. In 2009, 28 municipalities and state parks participated in the MHB program with 60 beach management areas routinely monitored Memorial Day through Labor Day.
The second monitoring program to protect public health is the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) Division of Public Health regulation of shellfish growing areas. Shellfish growing areas along the coast are classified to ensure the quality and safety of shellfish for human consumption, based on standards administered by the National Shellfish Sanitation Program, overseen by the Food and Drug Administration.
Disease-causing organisms come from various sources that are not always obvious. Identification and remedia- tion of pollution sources can be complicated, and require special studies and in-depth sanitary surveys. Maine has over 5,500 miles of coastline, and despite these two effec- tive programs, limited resources and staff at all levels has prompted the need to build local capacity for pollution prevention.
This guide is designed to support municipalities and state and federal agency staff in risk assessment of beaches and shorelines, to aid in the identification and remediation of pollution sources, and to preserve coastal water quality on Maine beaches.
The Economic Value of Clean Water
Generating approximately $10 billion in annual economic activity, $3 billion in earnings, and employing 140,000 people, tourism is Maine’s largest industry.2 Tourist spend- ing related to beaches is estimated to be over $500 million, supporting the employment of over 8,000 people.3
The shellfish industry contributes approximately $56 million to Maine’s economy and employs some 2,500 people.4
Both industries are integral components of the Maine economy and way of life. Both depend on clean water and healthy beaches. For example, closures of shellfish grow- ing areas were estimated at $14.8 million in lost sales and $7.9 million in lost income in 2005.5