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Final Water Quality Standards Bacteria Rule for Coastal and Great Lakes Recreation Waters

Our bacteria rule ensures human health protection for coastal and Great Lakes recreation waters . This is an important step in fulfilling the Administration’s commitment to further protect water quality at our nation’s beaches.

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We publish criteria
To make coastal waters safe for swimming and other recreation, the Clean Water Act requires us to publish "criteria," or scientifically justified limits for various pollutants. For example, a criterion for a pollutant says that there can be no more than a certain concentration of that pollutant (e.g 10 parts per million) in the water or else that water fails to protect human health.

States adopt criteria
States, under the Clean Water Act, have the responsibility for writing "standards," or legal limits on pollutants that protect coastal recreation waters for swimming use. The states must adopt protective criteria into their standards. They can do this three ways:

  • adopt our recommended criteria
  • modify our recommended criteria to reflect site-specific conditions; or
  • adopt criteria that is "as protective as" our recommendation based on scientifically-defensible methods.

The BEACH Act ensures protection
Although states are required to write the standards, we have to approve them. As of 2000, many states hadn't adopted our recommended bacteria criteria or an "as protective" alternative into their standards for coastal recreation waters.

In response, Congress passed the BEACH Act giving states until April 2004 to adopt protective bacteria criteria into their state standards. For states that didn't meet this deadline, the BEACH Act required us to issue federal standards to ensure national protection. With this new rule, we are putting federal standards into place for those states without criteria that are as protective of health as our criteria for coastal recreation waters.

Rule History

Final rule

Proposed rule

Note: EPA no longer updates this information, but it may be useful as a reference or resource.

Thirty-five Letters written to States and Territories notifying them of their bacteria water quality standard status.

Additional Resources

If you have any questions, please contact Lars Wilcut (wilcut.lars@epa.gov) 202-566-0447.

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