Guidelines for Healthy Beaches
(from Maine Townsman, July 2002)
by Clough Toppan, P.E., Director, Bureau of Health, Division of Health Engineering

With summer and hot weather upon us, Maine beaches are filling up with people.  In the spirit of the season, a number of state agencies are jointly embarking on an educational program to help town officials and citizens establish and maintain “healthy beaches.”

Many of the suggestions coming out of the program represent sound thinking on the topic combined with new guidance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  It is important to note that the Bureau of Health guidance on bathing beaches is just that — guidance.  It is neither a rule nor mandate.  Nonetheless, the State Bureau of Health does want towns and other beach owners to take the information seriously.  Contamination outbreaks, while uncommon, can have a devastating effect on business and the local community.

The material put forth by the state, is a joint effort of staff from several departments: Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Human Services (Bureau of Health), Department of Marine Resources, Department of Conservation, and the State Planning Office.  A mailing to town clerks is planned in the near future which will reiterate some of this information and provide copies of certain items of interest.

A list of the resources that have been put together include:

• Municipal check list to help maintain a healthy beach.

• Water testing guidance to help the laboratories understand the sampling guidance and the mandatory testing requirements.

• Outbreak protocols established by the Bureau of Health to assist the towns in dealing with this and associated problems.

• Outbreak Q&A’s which can help the towns deal with an outbreak.

• A number of good swimming Q & A’s for the public.

• Healthy swimming brochure, which can be folded into thirds and distributed. (available in a PDF format and easily printed locally).

• Beach education poster designed for posting at the beach.

• Sanitary survey form that assists the town in recognizing any condition that will lower water quality (e.g., culverts, sewage systems, etc.).

NOTE: All the above material is currently available on the DEP web site:

Summary of Basic Guidelines to Maintaining a Healthy Beach

• Have all town-bathing beaches had a sanitary survey taken annually to determine any sources of contamination?  The survey should reveal brooks, rivulets, culverts, etc.  The survey should be done both during a dry period as well as following a rainstorm.

• Have at least one set of bacteriological samples (prior to and after a rainstorm) been taken?

• Are routine (weekly) bacteriological samples taken 18” below the surface under crowded condition, or the time of highest bather loading, and also within 8 hours following the rainstorm (to determine the rainfall’s impact on water quality)?

• Are samples taken to a certified laboratory, certified in E. Coli (Freshwater) or Enterococci (marine)? Note: The E. Coli standard is 235 for a single sample; the Enterococci (marine waters) standard is 104 for a single sample. Does the laboratory test beach water samples by MMO-MUG/MPN technology?  Contact John Nims, State Laboratory Certification Officer at 287-2727, or for a listing of certified laboratories, or go to

• Does your bacteriological sampling frequency take into account the size of the beach?  For example, extra samples are recommended for beaches greater than 300 feet long.

• Are steps taken to perform a recheck sample on any unsatisfactory sample?

• If there are unsatisfactory samples, are you posting a notice that swimming is not advisable until further notice by the town?

• Are you posting information regarding precautions the public can take to protect themselves and others from recreational water illnesses, particularly in regards to fecal contamination?

• Are portable toilets available within 400 feet of all bathing beaches?

• Do you post signs showing these suggestions so the adult bathers will see the sign upon entering the beach area?

• Do you have copies of the Department of Human Services Outbreak Protocol?

For further guidance please contact the Bureau of Land and Water Quality at: or,