Environmental groups are renewing objections they had last year to a proposal in the Obama administration's 2014 federal budget that would cut funding for state beach water quality testing.
Last year, the administration also proposed to eliminate funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's nearly $10 million Beach Grant Program, prompting an outcry. The program was saved under the continuing resolution passed in October by Congress that kept the federal government funded through spring.
The same EPA funding cuts were proposed again when the administration released its 2014 budget last month. And now identical arguments are being made against the proposed cuts.
Activists say cutting the funds could mean fewer tests for bacterial levels – and fewer people informed when ocean water is unhealthy.
“If you think about the repercussions on the coastal economy and on public health, and all the medical costs with swimming at polluted beaches, it all adds up,” said Kirstin James of Santa Monica-based advocacy group Heal the Bay. “So the $10 million from the EPA is well worth the money.”
EPA officials say it's time for the states to take over the cost of water quality testing, which is part of the BEACH Act of 2000. Under the act, states may apply for grants to fund their testing programs.
"The EPA is proposing to eliminate these grants. The EPA has worked with state, tribal, and territorial governments for over ten years to develop their capacity to implement beach monitoring programs," the EPA said in its 2014 budget in brief document (PDF). "Many of these non-federal agencies now have the ability and knowledge to run their own programs without federal support."
If the EPA goes through with the cuts to the grant program, California would lose $500,000 in federal funding for water testing. The state does provide funds of its own testing, but the supplemental federal funds are crucial, environmental groups say.
“California has some additional supplemental money, but it’s not enough," James said. "We need that federal money.”
Some states, including Oregon, rely entirely on federal funding to pay for beach water quality testing.
“We’ve spoken to representatives from several different state agencies across the country over the past year, and they are deciding which beaches to stop testing, which staff to lay off, and if they can keep their water testing labs running at all with these looming budget cuts,” said Mara Dias, water quality manager for the environmental group Surfrider Foundation in a news release.
Environmental activists and 16 senators, including California Sen. Barbara Boxer, have sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee asking it not to cut the funding.
A decision is expected within about a month.