Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Filling in Financial Shortfalls

Economic hardship has become a reality in communities across the country and around the world. Governments and NGOs alike are being told to do more with less, or unfortunately sometimes, just to do less. State and county health and environmental agencies are not immune to this trend. Budget restrictions are forcing them to pare down their beach water quality monitoring programs by cutting back on the number of beaches tested and the frequency of sampling. Even in California and Florida, two states where beaches drive huge, tourism-based, economic engines, beach monitoring programs have been threatened with major cuts in funding. While the Surfrider Foundation will continue to submit requests for increased federal funding of the BEACH Act so more money gets to coastal states for water testing, our chapters are already taking action to fill in the gaps left by government-run beach monitoring programs.

In Mendocino County, California, the Department of Environmental Health began water quality testing in 2004 at selected beaches frequented by recreational users. Many of these test sites, however, were mainly dive locations and were seldom used by surfers. Additionally, testing was generally conducted only during the summer when there’s little swell.

With this in mind, the Mendocino Chapter proposed additional test sites to the County, including beaches that are primarily used by surfers and beach goers, and to increase the sampling period into the winter months. Since funding is always a problem for the small county, the Chapter proposed to conduct the additional testing on a volunteer basis by Mendocino Chapter members. Thus the Mendocino Chapter Blue Water Task Force was created.

Since 2006, their stout and intrepid team (Victoria Kraus, Jackie Dooley, and Jack Coulumbe) has collected water samples for bacteria testing on a bi-weekly basis at seven locations throughout Mendocino County. In times of County funding shortfalls they have actually substituted for County employees, all on their own time.

In Oregon, the newly founded Siuslaw Chapter, in partnership with the Siuslaw Watershed Council, has launched their Blue Water Task Force program this past winter season. Chapter members collect monthly water samples in areas around Florence that aren’t currently monitored by the State Beach Monitoring program. Volunteers collect samples at the South jetty, North jetty, the Siuslaw River and, the Heceta beach drainage near Driftwood Shores. Larry Brammer designed and built the device that attaches to a fishing pole to hold the water sample bottles when collecting water from the ocean. The water samples are brought to the Siuslaw Watershed Council laboratory in Mapleton for analysis.

The Mendocino and Siuslaw Chapters’ Blue Water Task Force are a great example of volunteerism in support of the community.

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