Delaware’s beaches are No. 1 in the nation, says the Natural Resources Defense Council, which rates beaches on clean water and how good a job the state does in letting the public know when bacteria exceeds safe levels.
That honor evoked a cheer at Irish Eyes Pub & Restaurant in Lewes on Friday, where patrons were already getting a jump on the upcoming Fourth of July celebration at the beach.
“Our beaches are the best,” Liza Burby, the day manager, told the crowd at the bar. “Of all the beautiful beaches in America, from Maine to California, Delaware beaches are the cleanest and the nicest.”
Gov. Jack Markell expects the ranking will have a positive impact, “if you’re a family and deciding where you want to go to the beach.” NRDC recently launched a tool that allows vacationers to shop for destinations using water quality and cleanliness as criteria.
It’s an especially impressive honor because NRDC has no ties to Delaware and the ratings are objective, the governor says.
And here’s the cherry on top of the sundae: Both Dewey Beach and Rehoboth Beach were named to the elite group of 13 top beaches in the U.S.
“This is good news for us all and we certainly will be sharing it,” Burby said. “In this economy, anything that attracts people to Delaware beaches is positive—and this one is a biggie.”
NRDC has calculated star ratings for more than 200 popular beaches in 30 states, based on such criteria as testing water more than once a week and getting the word out to the public quickly by posting a notice of high bacteria levels online as well as at the beach. In Delaware, water is monitored by the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
Dewey and Rehoboth are two of only three beaches in the mid-Atlantic region to attain a five-star rating. The other is in Ocean City, Maryland. In southern New Jersey, no beach was awarded more than three stars. NRDC gave Maple Street beach in Wildwood one star because bacteria levels exceed limits 5.6 percent of the time, water is tested only once a week and testers are slow to give notice to beachgoers.
Overall, the Jersey Shore ranked fourth in the nation. Pennsylvania’s beaches, all on Lake Erie, came in the middle of the pack, at No 15. Maryland was No. 11. Of the 30 states, Louisiana was ranked last, due largely to the impact of the BP oil spill in 2010.
Carol Everhart, CEO of the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce, says various reports and honors are all part of a marketing arsenal. It’s up to the 1,300-plus businesses in the chamber to decide individually how to make the most of those opportunities.
“It’s another feather in our cap,” she said. “We try to use everything we can to promote the area, from the beaches to being a great retirement destination.”
Katie Landon, an agent at Lingo Realty in Lewes, was more excited. She is planning to share the good news online with prospective renters at Delaware beaches.
“It is awesome, wonderful news,” she said, “and it’s a great promotion.”
Michael Klecko, Lingo’s rental manager, believes Delaware’s reputation for cleanliness will appeal most to senior citizens and families with young children. But he notes that most people already have made their summer vacation plans so the ranking will likely pay off more for next year’s rentals.
“We’ve always known that Delaware beaches are the best but it’s always good having that official validation,” he said. “We will use the ranking in a blurb on our website when we start marketing for next year.”
Headquartered in New York, NRDC is an environmental action group with 1.3 million members. Among the nonprofit’s goals are curbing global warming, protecting endangered wildlife and promoting safe water.
NRDC has been rating beaches for 22 years. Jon Devine, senior attorney on NRDC’s water safety initiative, says a good rating historically has had a positive impact on a community.
“We think the ratings are a tool that people will use when they are deciding where to go to the beach,” he said. “We’ve seen examples of communities touting our ratings—or trying to explain why their rating wasn’t so good.”
Delaware also is notable because the state is proactive about telling people where they shouldn’t swim, the NRDC says.
There are permanent warnings against swimming in Rehoboth Bay, Indian River Bay and Little Assawoman Bay, which contain contaminants from failing septic systems, fertilizers used on lawns and farms and runoff from poultry houses. Sewage treatment plants in Rehoboth and Lewes also discharge treated effluent into the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal, which feeds into the bays.
“Beaches on a bay, where water doesn’t flow through as much, tend to have more bacteria,” Devine explained.
Swimmers, especially children and elderly people, can develop gastrointestinal illnesses, as well as ear and eye infections from contaminated water, he says.
Most states monitor water quality from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Delaware has extended monitoring from May 2 to Sept. 28. As a result, there were six beach closings in 2011. All were due to unsafe levels of bacteria in the water.