July 30, 2008

Two Texas Beaches Barely Earn Environmental Stars

By Robert T. Garrett, The Dallas Morning News

Jul. 30--AUSTIN -- Just two Texas beaches won the slightest of praise in an environmental group's ratings of clean water and protecting the public.

Galveston Island's Stewart Park Beach and McGee Beach in Corpus Christi earned one-star ratings, for prompt reporting by local authorities when there's an outbreak of dangerous fecal contamination.

The Natural Resources Defense Council gave 322 out of 3,516 beaches across the country one or more stars, out of a possible five.

"Our beaches are really not that great compared to the rest of the nation," said Brittany Ballard, citizen outreach director for Environment Texas, which released the national group's ratings Tuesday.

Texas' General Land Office tests at 167 beaches for the bacterium Enterococcus, which indicates fecal contamination and is usually caused by stormwater runoff.

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said fewer beach advisories were issued between May and September 2007 than for the same period in 2006. And that was in spite of heavier rains last summer, he said.

"Texas beaches are a great place to be," Mr. Patterson said.

Ms. Ballard said the Land Office looked too narrowly. It counted only beach advisories issued from May through September. Warm weather allows people to visit Texas beaches at other times, she said.

Comparing entire years, the Natural Resources Defense Council's "Testing the Waters" report said Texas had 532 advisories last year, up more than 12 percent from 2006.

Only one Texas beach has a high level of fecal contamination -- Rockport Beach Park South, according to Mr. Patterson's Web site.


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