Nov. 8, 2004 Residents who may have doubts about the water quality of the territory's beaches will soon have a convenient way of finding out which ones are safe before hitting the shores.
As part of its Beach Monitoring Program, the Planning and Natural Resources Department is initiating a toll free number residents and visitors can call in to find out which beaches should be avoided.
The department will also publish a Web site with maps of the island, pointing out the safe shorelines.
"We've identified a contractor, and the funds are available," Aaron Hutchins, DPNR environmental protection director, said Monday. "It's just going through the procurement process."
In July, DPNR implemented its Beach Monitoring Program, monitoring the water quality of 43 of the territory's beaches excluding those monitored by the National Park Service on a weekly basis.
Local contractors were hired to collect water samples of the beaches. The samples are then analyzed by local labs, which give results in a 24-hour period.
The water is tested for enterococci, a pathogen that can cause gastrointestinal disorders.
"This indicator is an improvement over past indicators," Hutchins said.
Hutchins said in the past the water would be tested for fecal coliform bacteria, but testing for enterococci is better because it shows up faster in tests and indicates the presence of other forms of bacteria and viruses.
When a high presence of bacteria is found, residents are notified through public advisories in the media. Now the toll free number and Web site will soon be available.
"In the long term this program will place permanent signs on all 43 beaches," Hutchins said. The signs will inform residents whether the beach is safe or will provide a warning when high levels of bacteria have been found on the beach.
Hutchins said funding for the program is from a $300,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.
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