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LEARN: EPA’s Role in Protecting Beaches

EPA works in partnership with states, tribes, territories, local governments, and the public to protect beaches.

EPA protects beaches in the following areas:

Monitoring Beach Waters

State, territorial, tribal, and local health and environmental protection agencies

Across the country, these agencies are responsible for monitoring the quality of water at coastal and Great Lakes beaches and posting advisories or closing beaches when fecal indicator bacteria in the water are too high.  However, some of these agencies do not have enough resources to monitor all of their beach waters. Contact your agency for more information.

The Beach Advisory and Closing Online Notification system (BEACON)

BEACON is a source of longer-term data about beach water quality. EPA created BEACON to meet the Agency's obligation to provide to the public a database of pollution occurrences for coastal recreation waters. BEACON contains annual state-reported beach monitoring and notification data and is available online.

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Laws that Protect Beaches

EPA implements several laws that regulate sources of water pollution to our coastal beaches. To learn more about these laws, review

Clean Water Act
The Clean Water Act establishes the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States and regulating quality standards for surface waters. It was signed into law in 1948 as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act but was renamed the Clean Water Act in 1977. Under the CWA, EPA has set wastewater standards for industry and water quality standards for contaminants in surface waters.

  • Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act
    The BEACH Act amends the Clean Water Act to better protect public health at our nation's beaches. It was signed into law in 2000. The BEACH Act requires EPA to recommend water quality criteria that states, territories, and tribes can adopt into their water quality standards for pathogens and pathogen indicators in coastal recreational waters. The BEACH Act also authorizes grants to states, territories, and eligible Tribes to monitor coastal and Great Lakes beaches and to notify the public when water quality standards are exceeded. 
  • Clean Boating Act
    Congress passed the Clean Boating Act in 2008 as another amendment to the Clean Water Act. The Clean Boating Act requires EPA to identify discharges incidental to the normal operation of recreational vessels and to develop management practices can help to limit the amount of pollution discharged into our nation's waters.  This site is intended to answer many questions the recreational boater may have about the Clean Boating Act, EPA's responsibilities, and a regulation that affects recreational boaters.
  • Oil Pollution Act
    The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 amended the Clean Water Act and addressed the wide range of problems associated with preventing, responding to, and paying for oil pollution incidents in navigable waters of the United States. It created a comprehensive prevention, response, liability, and compensation regime to deal with vessel- and facility-caused oil pollution to U.S. navigable waters. EPA has regulations for above-ground storage facilities and the Coast Guard has them for oil tankers. This story map examines the events that inspired the Oil Pollution Act.

Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act (MDRPRA) (PDF) (8 pp, 136 K, About PDF)
The MDRPRA established programs within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the United States Coast Guard (USCG) to identify, determine sources of, assess, reduce, and prevent marine debris. MDRPRA also reactivates the Interagency Marine Debris Coordinating Committee, chaired by NOAA.

Coastal Zone Management Act
The Coastal Zone Management Act was designed to help protect valuable natural coastal resources such as wetlands, floodplains, estuaries, beaches, dunes, barrier islands, and coral reefs, as well as the fish and wildlife using those habitats. It includes areas bordering the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic Oceans, Gulf of Mexico, Long Island Sound, and Great Lakes. The Coastal Zone Management Act is administered by NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management.

The Coastal Zone Management Act encourages states and tribes to preserve, protect, develop, and where possible, restore or enhance these resources, but a unique feature of this law is that participation by states and tribes is voluntary. To encourage states and tribes to participate, the act makes federal financial assistance available.

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Programs to Protect Beaches

EPA has several programs that regulate sources of water pollution to our coastal beaches. To learn more about these programs, use the links below. 

BEACH Act Program

After the BEACH Act was signed into law, EPA expanded the focus of its efforts to improve the quality of coastal recreation waters and protect the health of beachgoers. To meet these goals, EPA is addressing the following objectives:

National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit Program

The NPDES program is authorized by the Clean Water Act and controls water pollution by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants into waters of the United States.

Pollution Budgeting (TMDL) Program

The TMDL program, under section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act, requires states, territories, and authorized tribes to develop lists of impaired waters, establish priority rankings for waters, and develop Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs). TMDLs related to beaches include pathogens, nutrients, and trash.

Trash-Free Waters Program

This program aims to reduce marine debris resulting from land-based and ocean-based sources.

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EPA plays an important role in enforcing our nation's environmental laws to protect our nation's recreational beaches and the health of those who use them.

Clean Water Act compliance monitoring
This program works to protect human health and the environment by ensuring that the regulated community obeys environmental laws and regulations.

Clean Water Act compliance assistance
This program provides businesses, colleges and universities, federal facilities, local governments and tribes with tools to help meet environmental regulatory requirements.

Water Enforcement
This program provides additional information on EPA’s role in cleaning up water pollution.

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Science and Technology

EPA is developing tools to better measure, identify, and address microbes in recreational waters and to better understand how these pollutants affect people’s health. EPA also creates national criteria for indicators of fecal bacteria and toxins produced by harmful algal blooms and works with states, territories, and tribes on adopting protections for their waterbodies.

  • Technical Resources about Beaches
    This website helps state and local officials to monitor beach health and to make decisions about when to restrict access to or close beaches due to unsafe environmental conditions.​
  • Recreational Water Quality Criteria
    This website describes the criteria that EPA has developed for enterococci, E. coli, and cyanotoxins and developing work on criteria for coliphages.
  • Review of Recreational Water Quality Criteria
    The review includes a detailed assessment of the state of the science and advances made since the criteria for enterococci and E. coli were developed.


Several EPA programs provide grant funding to address clean water at the nation's recreational beaches.

BEACH Act grants
This program provides grants to states, territories, tribes and local governments to protect beachgoers from contaminated water at coastal beaches including the Great Lakes. Grant funds are used to develop and implement beach monitoring and notification programs.

Clean Water Act Section 319 grants
This program provides states, territories, and tribes with funding for a wide variety of activities including technical assistance, financial assistance, education, training, technology transfer, demonstration projects and monitoring to assess the success of specific nonpoint source implementation projects.

Clean Water Act Section 106 grants
This program provides federal assistance to states (including territories, the District of Columbia, and Indian Tribes) and interstate agencies to establish and implement ongoing water pollution control programs.


In addition to helping measure pollution in water near beaches, EPA helps states, tribes, territories, and local governments inform people on the threats to beaches and opportunities to protect them.

EPA is improving public access to information about the quality of the water at beaches and health risks associated with swimming in polluted water.

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