Since 2001, the UTPA Coastal Studies Laboratory, the Cameron County headquarters for Texas Beach Watch, has been collecting water samples for the program, which launched its new media campaign April 8 at the University’s coastal facility to raise public awareness of its updated interactive Web site.
“When Texans are headed for the beaches this summer, we want them to make the new-and-improved TexasBeachWatch.com their first stop,” said Jerry Patterson, commissioner of the Texas General Land Office. “Thanks to the experts at the UTPA Coastal Studies Lab, we're able to offer the latest information on South Padre's water condition to beachgoers across the state."
The General Land Office implemented the Texas Beach Watch Program in the late 1990s using funds received from the Coastal Management Program. Then, in 2000, Congress passed the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act, in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to protect public health in coastal recreational waters.
Texas Beach Watch collects water samples from the state’s top recreational beaches located in Aransas, Brazoria, Cameron, Galveston, Jefferson, Kleberg, Matagorda, Nueces and San Patricio counties. As part of the program the CSL, along with other designated universities, local governments and laboratories contracted by the General Land Office, collect weekly water samples and tests for the presence of the Enterococcus bacteria, which is found in the intestinal tracts of animals and humans and indicates fecal contamination, usually from storm water runoff.
The CSL tests for the bacteria three times a week in Boca Chica State Park, Isla Blanca and Andy Bowie Park, and on the bayside of South Padre Island. Once test results are obtained, they are entered into a database and posted online. If bacteria levels exceed those recommended by the EPA, the General Land Office will work closely with local officials to issue advisories warning the public not to swim in affected waters.
“This Web site is an excellent opportunity for those planning to visit South Padre Island or other Texas beaches to find out if there are any posted advisories they should be concerned about,” Donald Hockaday, CSL research and education coordinator, said. “Across the United States a lot of beaches, particularly in the Great Lakes, have had to close, but in Cameron County we are very lucky to have clean water. We very rarely have to post advisories or shut down our beach.”
“We are happy to be working with this program as it is also a good thing for the South Padre Island tourism industry,” Hockaday added.