According to the U.S. EPA, the nation's beaches were safe for swimming 96% of the time in 2005. Photo: Laguna Beach, Calif., CVB

Beaches attract swimmers, surfers, and sunbathers, but they also attract less desirable visitors—like bacteria and other pollutants from sewer and stormwater system malfunctions. Little wonder, then, that monitoring and maintaining water quality is a big concern for the public works agencies that maintain waterfronts.

This year, under its Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act, the U.S. EPA will grant $10 million to beaches in 30 states and five U.S. territories. Public agencies can use the money to enhance their water-quality monitoring efforts, develop new testing technologies, create public information programs that promote beach health, and initiate beach improvements.

The goal: to eliminate the threat of E. coli and other contaminants, and to prevent beach closings. Stormwater is a particularly thorny issue for beaches, according to Jonathan Gorham, coastal resource manager for the public works department in Indian River County, Fla. “We've had several short beach closings this year,” he says. “There are some hot spots in more urbanized parts of the country.”

Since the agency began collecting the data in 1997, the number of beaches monitored has nearly quadrupled, to 4025. Over the past six years, the agency has provided $52 million in BEACH Act grants.

To learn how to get federal funding for beach-improvement programs, visit