Coastal Health District

Environmental Health

Beach Water Testing

The Coastal Health District and the Coastal Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources work together to test coastal beach waters for the presence of potentially harmful bacteria that could cause illness. More populated beaches are tested year-round on a weekly basis. If bacteria levels are elevated, an advisory sign will be placed on the beach.

What is the Water Tested for?
The water is tested for the presence of enterococcus bacteria which can come from a number of different sources including storm water runoff, boating waste, or animal waste (birds, dogs, raccoons, deer, dolphins, etc.) but there is no definitive way to determine the origin of the bacteria detected in the water. The water is tested because high levels of bacteria may possibly cause illness (you may not get sick if you go in the water but there is an increased risk for illness). The threshold for bacteria levels is determined by the Environmental Protection Agency and is based on scientific studies.

Why Isn't the Beach Closed?
A beach is not closed because there is an increase in bacteria in the water, not on the beach, which is why public health suggests no swimming or wading in the water (risk of illness comes from contact with the water).

How is the Advisory Location Decided?
Beaches have been divided up into zones. Water samples are taken from the center of each zone and if bacteria levels are found to be higher in a certain zone then an advisory is issued. Because it's not possible to determine exactly where the bacteria levels switch from "okay" to "elevated," the advisory is issued for a fairly large area. It is important to note that the advisory is issued only in an area where bacteria levels are increased and not the entire beach. If water samples from more than one zone indicate higher levels of bacteria then multiple advisories will be issued but again, only for the areas where bacteria is higher.

How Long do Areas Stay Under Advisory?
When an advisory is issued, a another sample of the water in the area under advisory is taken within a few days and retested. An area will stay under advisory until the test shows that that bacteria in the water has decreased to an acceptable level as determined by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Again, It is important to note that the beach water advisory is to alert the public of a possible risk of illness associated with water contact but does not mean the beach is closed. Rather we are advising people against swimming or wading in the water until the bacteria levels return to normal and encouraging those fishing in the impacted area to wash fish and seafood caught there with fresh water and thoroughly cook the fish/seafood before eating it.

Find the Answers to More Frequently Asked Questions Here
Click here for more information on beach water quality and testing: Beach Water Quality FAQs

Want to know more about beach water advisories?
To see the latest beach water advisories or to sign up to receive notifications of beach water advisories, click HERE