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Federal funding cut-off threat looms over Florida's beach water testing program

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Environmental groups are raising concerns about the continued threat to federal funding provided to states for beach water quality testing.

The Natural Resources Defense Council on Wednesday issued its annual "Testing the Waters" report that provides a snapshot of beach water testing results for the previous year -- information that is readily available on the Florida Department of Health website.

Florida dropped from fifth to 13th among states in having the fewest percentage of beach water samples with high bacteria, according to the report. Testing for bacteria can indicate the presence of sewage or animal waste in waters that can cause diseases and infections, according to DOH.

That drop in the percentage of clean water samples follows sharp drop in the number of samples collected, from 13,288 in 2011 to 8,248. Of the samples collected, those exceeding standards for bacteria increased from 3 percent to 5 percent.

In his fiscal year 2014 budget proposal, President Barack Obama would eliminate $9.3 million that is provided to states for beach water testing. The proposal did not take effect last year, NRDC said, because Congress did not pass a budget.

Beaches in 34 counties were tested for bacteria weekly by the Florida Department of Health beginning in 2002. But DOH scaled back the program in September 2011 after cutting $525,000 from the program budget in 2011-12. That left only a $516,000 federal grant for continued testing this past year.