Thursday, November 21, 2019

Cleaner Water and Better Beaches

By Bruce Berman

Bruce Berman has served as Director of Strategy & Communications at Save the Harbor/Save the Bay since 1990. He is a Lead Consultant to the Metropolitan Beaches Commission, and directs Save the Harbor's public policy and advocacy work.  

Bruce lives, works and plays on Boston Harbor aboard his 1987 DeFever trawler Verandah with his wife Patty Foley. He is currently a visiting scholar at Brown University, where he is working on a book about the politics of fisheries management.

Save the Harbor/Save the Bay has helped lead and manage the Metropolitan Beaches Commission for the legislature since 2007. Today, the Commission is co-chaired by Rep. RoseLee Vincent of Revere and Sen Brendan Crighton of Lynn, and is charged with issuing findings and recommendations that improve the region's public beaches in Lynn, Nahant, Revere, Winthrop, East Boston, South Boston, Dorchester, Quincy and Hull.

In 2019, the Commission conducted public hearings at the State House and in 9 waterfront neighborhoods and beachfront communities from Nahant to Nantasket, to focus attention on the value of these beaches to the nearly two million regional residents who live within a short drive or ride to the coast. Nearly 1,000 people took part in a hearing or completed an online survey.

You can see what participants had to say about their favorite beach here.

While most of the region's public beaches have improved substantially since the Commission's first report in 2008,  traffic jams and beach parking have become critical concerns on beaches that were all but abandoned just 20 years ago, along with unexplained marine mammal mortality events, increased nuisance algae blooms related to rising ocean temperatures, and beach erosion and damage to coastal infrastructure cause by increasingly frequent and severe storm events .

In the winter of 2020, Save the Harbor will produce a report on the Metropolitan Beaches Commissions findings and recommendations, which we will release at a public event in the spring, to keep these beaches “top of mind” as we advocate for full funding for the Metropolitan Beaches line in the FY2021 budget.

Though water quality on area beaches has improved significantly in recent years, some beaches continue to lag behind, while beach flagging and posting protocols, which rely on yesterday’s test results for today’s posting, continue to be misleading.

Though the flags and postings are fairly accurate on very clean beaches (like those in South Boston) or very dirty beaches (like King’s or Tenean) they are often wrong on beaches that are doing fairly well, like Constitution Beach in East Boston, Malibu Beach in Dorchester, and Wollaston Beach in Quincy.

To complicate matters, this year DPH has made an unannounced change to their posting protocols, without any input from stakeholders, which appears to have made the flagging and postings even less accurate than before, which we are working to resolve.

For example, this summer Constitution Beach, Wollaston Beach, and Malibu Beach were incorrectly flagged when the water was safe to swim 16 times in June and July - including both the 4th and 5th of July during a heat wave on a holiday weekend.

To help clarify the situation, in 2020 Save the Harbor/Save the Bay will convene our Beaches Science Advisory Committee to review the data and make recommendations to improve the flagging protocol and protect the public's health and their right to swim when the water is safe.

The metropolitan region's 13 public beaches are important environmental, economic, recreational and civic assets that belong to all the residents of the Commonwealth. We look forward to working with all of you in 2020 as we seek to move these beaches from good to great, and continue to protect both the public's health and their right to enjoy clean water on their beach.

You can see learn more about water quality on your favorite urban beach at

Save the Harbor would like to thank our program and policy partners and event sponsors: the Department of Conservation & Recreation, Harpoon Brewery, JetBlue, the Richard Saltonstall Charitable Foundation, P&G Gillette, National Grid, Comcast, Beacon Capital Partners, New England Picture, Mix 104.1, Boston Centers for Youth & Families, The YMCA of Greater Boston, The Daily Catch Seaport, Baja Taco Truck, the Blue Sky Collaborative, Keezer Sportswear, the Harvey Traveler Collection, Unreal Candy, and Stony Brook WholeHeartedFoods for their support.

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