Are Oregon beaches safe for swimming?

New report warns about contaminated water as Congress votes on funding to prevent pollution
For Immediate Release

Portland – With summer in full swing, water pollution can close Oregon beaches or put swimmers' health at risk. Last year, bacteria levels at 18 Oregon beaches indicated that water was potentially unsafe for swimming there on least one day, according to the new report Safe for Swimming? by Environment Oregon Research & Policy Center.  

“Even as Oregonians crave the fresh sea breeze and splash of waves at the beach this summer, pollution is still plaguing the places where we long to swim," said Celeste Meiffren-Swango, State Director with Environment Oregon Research & Policy Center. “We can and must do a better job of keeping waste out of our water.”

To assess beach safety, the group examined whether fecal indicator bacteria levels exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) most protective “Beach Action Value,” which is associated with an estimated illness rate of 32 out of every 1,000 swimmers. Rockaway Beach and Sunset Bay had bacteria levels above this safety threshold on 90% percent of days tested last year.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (OR), chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, noted, “This report makes it clear our country needs to invest in maintaining and upgrading our sewage treatment facilities so that beaches in Oregon, or anywhere in the U.S., are no longer forced to close or put the public at risk.” 

Other Oregon beaches found potentially unsafe for swimming at least once in 2019 were Seal Rock State Recreation Site, Nye Beach, Cannon Beach, D River, Neskowin Beach, Agate Beach, Bastendorf Beach, Hubbard Creek Beach, Harris Beach State Park, Mill Beach, Beverly Beach State Park, Tolovana Beach, Roads End Beach, Twin Rocks, Oswald West and Heceta Beach.  

Polluted runoff from roads and parking lots, overflowing or failing sewer systems, and farms are common sources of contamination that can put swimmers’ health at risk and lead authorities to close beaches or issue health advisories. Scientists estimate that 57 million instances of people getting sick each year from contact with polluted waters in the U.S.

The report recommends major investments to prevent sewage overflows and runoff pollution.  The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote this week or next on $11 billion in emergency water infrastructure funding.

“Let’s make our beaches safe for swimming by building the infrastructure that will keep the water clean,” said Meiffren-Swango. “Wherever it is safe to go to the beach, let’s make sure it’s safe to go swimming in the water too.”

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Environment Oregon Research & Policy Center is dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help the public make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives. For more information, visit https://environmentoregoncenter.org/.