Tomasina Brattelli (nee Lammendola), of Runnemede

NJ SIERRA CLUB: Beach Report - NJ Must Improve Water Quality Protections

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Today, the annual beach report Safe for Swimming: Pollution at Our Beaches and How to Prevent It was released by Environment America Research & Policy Center and the Frontier Group. According to the report, 73 of 22 beaches (32.88%) in New Jersey tested potentially unsafe for at least one day in 2019. Beaches in Cape May County, Ocean

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County, and Monmouth County tested potentially unsafe on 5% of the days that sampling took place.


“It is now the middle of the summer, and everyone wants to go out and enjoy the Shore. However, pollution from stormwater runoff and sewage end up closing our beaches. This Report should be a wakeup call that New Jersey needs to do more to protect our coast and bays. We need to fix how we deal with chronic pollution, runoff from fertilizers and septics, and old leaky sewer pipes. We need to address problems with Combined Sewer Overflows to stop this waste from going into our water,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Every time it rains, it pours sewage and runoff. Sprawl and overdevelopment is directly killing our coast, but the State of NJ doesn’t even want to test for the problems, let alone fix them.”


The following beaches in New Jersey had the highest number of potentially unsafe days in 2019:

Beach Name


Potentially Unsafe Days in 2019

Days with testing

Percentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water

Beachwood Beach West





Barnegat Light Bay Beach





Windward Beach





Harvey Cedars Borough at 75th Bay Front





Sea Girt Borough at New York Blvd





Wildwood City at Bennett






In New Jersey, three counties had beaches that had potentially unsafe water on 5% of the days that sampling took place. These include Cape May County, Ocean County, and Monmouth County, all with 5%. Cape May had 69 beaches test for unsafe water in 2019, 60 beaches in Ocean, and 45 in Monmouth County. In Atlantic County, 56 beaches, or 1%, tested unsafe in 2019.


The U.S. House of Representatives is considering a federal water infrastructure bill this week. Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06) has repeatedly worked to get a Safe Beaches Act passed over the past ten years. The act would set national coastal water quality standards and provide federal funding to states to test water quality and notify the public when conditions are unsafe. 


“New Jersey needs to do more to protect water quality at our beaches. Too many beaches get closed because of pollution and runoff, which not only can affect public health but hurts our tourism. We must put together a real cleanup plan, especially for stormwater to protect swimmers and the Jersey Shore. We are not doing enough proper testing and we also are allowing overdevelopment to impact our water quality,” said Jeff Tittel. “We need state and federal help to fix our problems. The water infrastructure bill up in the House this week is a major step in the right direction to update old water infrastructure and Combined Sewer Overflows. Congressman Pallone also has a Safe Beaches Act in the House that would set national water quality standards and provide funding for testing. Now, New Jersey needs to do more to protect our waters from non-point and nutrient pollution.”


Our beaches continue to exceed national standards for bacteria from human and animal waste at higher levels. Testing is only done one day per week, and not after it rains.  Weekends attract the most beachgoers and water testing is done on Mondays.  This results in five days of untested water before most people get to the beach, leaving the highest number of swimmers vulnerable to unsafe water. There is technology to test water quality within a few hours, which the DEP needs to invest in order to protect public health and our economy. New Jersey’s tourism is largely dependent upon our beaches and bays. With beach closures and health risks, no one will want to swim on the Jersey shore. Even the Barnegat Bay, one of the biggest tourism draws in the state, is hurts by pollution and lack of water quality control.


Raw and partially treated sewage is an ecological and public health disaster. Many towns and municipalities had water advisories in place like New Brunswick meaning sewage has entered the water. Raw sewage is an extreme health hazard containing all kinds of pathogens including everything from E-coli to salmonella to Enterococci, even meningitis. Direct contact with this sewage water can lead to serious health problems from an ear aches to digestive problems or worse.  With floodwaters going into towns, homes, or basements this could be a serious health concern. 


“These numbers could even be worse since New Jersey fails in testing water quality. Many beaches go untested and are left open when they should be closed putting people at risk. Half our beaches do not get tested and the ones that do only get tested on Monday. So if it rains on Friday people could be swimming in polluted water not knowing until testing is done. That needs to be changed. It takes days in New Jersey to get test results yet there is technology out there that will get results in a few hours, which is what we should have. There are tests for pathogens like E. Coli and Enterococci that have results within an hour, yet we’re waiting days for test results,” said Tittel. “By not testing enough and not using the best technology we put people at risk and could chase away our tourism putting our economy at risk as well.”


Beaches in Old bridge and Lawrence Harbor have been declared Superfund Sites and medical waste is washing up on Avalon's shores. Beaches in Brick Township have been closed due to jellyfish overpopulation and beaches in Brielle, Spring Lake and Lake Como are closed when it rains. There have been numerous fish kills in the Raritan Bay within the last decade. Brown tide outbreaks are occurring along the northern coast. Dissolved oxygen levels are dropping due to high levels of nutrients from stormwater, resulting in algae blooms. New Jersey already has eleven lakes with high levels of harmful algal blooms this summer. It will only get worse as summers get warmer.


“New Jersey is one of the most vulnerable states to climate impacts. We’re the second-fastest warming state in the nation and we’re third for having the most properties at risk for flooding. Unless New Jersey acts, one day we will not have the Shore we love. As temperatures rise and water infrastructure gets older, we’ll see more closed beaches. Warmer temperatures mean more algae blooms and lower oxygen levels, which can create dead zones. We’ll also see more algal blooms closing our lakes and affecting our bays as climate impacts increase,” said Jeff Tittel. “The state needs to take action now on dealing with septic and stormwater management and strengthening standards that limit fertilizer, pollution, and more. We also need more funding to restore wetlands and natural systems, and to retrofit stormwater systems in existing developments.”


In 2019, the L Street Beach in Belmar, NJ was shut down for a month due to discharges from a nearby Combined sewer system. They finally opened the beach after making investments in nearby sewage pipes and pumps, but the problem has to do with statewide development trends and diminishing green space. Overdevelopment and paving over open space has lead to increased stormwater runoff and overwhelmed sewage systems across the state.


“New Jersey needs to create a comprehensive approach to the shore that includes mitigation of climate change, adaptation for sea level rise, and restoration of natural systems. We need to be updating our water infrastructure, fixing old leaky sewer pipes, dealing with Combined Sewer Overflows, and stormwater runoff. We also should be buying out property of flood prone areas, and rebuilding in a more sustainable manner including pulling back from the shore where we can,” said Jeff Tittel. “We need real action from the administration to protect our bays and coast. Without real action, the Jersey Shore that belongs to all of us will keep being closed.