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By Caryn Shinske September 25, 2011

Gov. Chris Christie says Jersey Shore water quality is ‘perfect’

There’s a strip of coastline in the United States where the quality of the water is better than good, according to the governor.

"The water quality in the ocean is perfect," Gov. Chris Christie said during a Sept. 2 press conference at Point Pleasant Beach, days after Hurricane Irene blasted through. "It’s been tested up and down every ocean shore in New Jersey."

PolitiFact New Jersey found that while test results show the water is the best it’s been in years, some environmental experts disagree with Christie’s assessment.

First, let’s look at how New Jersey reviews water quality.

The state Department of Environmental Protection, in collaboration with local health departments, tests the water from Sandy Hook to Cape May each week from mid-May to mid-September, according to department spokesman Larry Ragonese.

Water samples from swimming areas are tested for fecal coliform and other types of bacteria connected with sewage, stormwater runoff, and other pollutants, he said.

The results, Ragonese said, have come back clean consistently since at least 2006, ranking Jersey shore waters above the 99th percentile of cleanliness on a scale of 100 percent.

"There’s really been a concerted effort to really, really stress the importance of clean beaches," Ragonese said.

In fact, New Jersey ranked second in the nation, behind New Hampshire, for ocean water quality in 2010, according to a June report by the National Resources Defense Council.

The weekly tests check the levels of enterococcus, a bacteria normally found in the feces of people and many animals. Any level above 104 enterococci per 100 milliliters of sample is considered too high, according to state standards.

PolitiFact New Jersey reviewed test results for beaches in Atlantic, Cape May, Monmouth and Ocean counties dating to 2005. We found that in most cases, water quality results have been their best since 2008, with the level of enterococci well below the state’s threshold.

If a test sample exceeds acceptable bacteria levels twice, the beach is closed until the bacteria level falls into normal range, Ragonese said. Jill Lipoti, director of the Division of Water Monitoring and Standards for the DEP, said three beaches were closed all along the shore this summer.

Still, three environmental groups challenged Christie’s claim of "perfect" water quality.

Trenton-based Environment New Jersey pointed to low oxygen levels in the ocean and questioned the health of the water for marine life. Pollution in Barnegat Bay and beach closures due to pollution also are a concern, said Dena Mottola Jaborska, executive director of Environment New Jersey.

"I think the governor does a disservice to citizens in the state when he makes statements like that," Jaborska said. "There are lots of issues with the ocean."

Larry Levine, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York City, also said the Jersey shore’s water quality is not perfect.

"Every coastal state has some degree of issues with water pollution at beaches," in part due to stormwater runoff from urban and suburban areas where raw sewage and overflow can combine in the same pipe en route to a sewage treatment plant, Levine explained. When heavy rains are more than the treatment plants can handle, an untreated mixture of sewage and runoff can be released into waterways that lead to the coast.

"That’s an issue nationwide, not just in New Jersey," Levine said.

Clean Ocean Action of Monmouth County also wouldn’t qualify the water as perfect, but credited New Jersey for taking steps toward improvement.

"The ocean’s much better off than it has been in a decade and while some individual pollutants may still be low, we have taken in this state with the Legislature and the governor’s office many impressive first steps that are long overdue," said Sean Dixon, coastal policy attorney for Clean Ocean Action. "There’s always more to be done."

Our ruling

Encouraging people to return to the Jersey shore, Christie claimed the water quality is "perfect," and that frequent test results have been favorable up and down the coast.

While test results show that the shore’s waters are better than in past years, some environmental organizations disagree with the governor’s assessment.

We rate this claim Mostly True.

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Our Sources

"Get The Hell Back On The Beach" video, YouTube, Sept. 3, 2011, accessed Sept. 15 and 21, 2011

The Star-Ledger, "Report: NJ has second-best beach water quality in nation," June 29, 2011, accessed online Sept. 15 and 21, 2011

Phone interview with Gov. Chris Christie’s press office, Sept. 15, 2011

Phone interview with Larry Ragonese, press director, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Sept. 15 and 16, 2011

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Cooperative Coastal Monitoring Program results, accessed Sept. 16, 20 and 21, 2011

Phone interview with Sean Dixon, coastal policy attorney, Clean Water Action, Sept. 16, 2011

Phone interview with Dena Mottola Jaborska, Environment New Jersey executive director, Sept. 16, 2011

Phone interview with Jill Lipoti, director, Division of Water Monitoring and Standards, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Sept. 16, 2011, accessed Sept. 19, 2011

Phone interview with Larry Levine, senior attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sept. 20, 2011

Natural Resources Development Council report "Testing the Waters 2011," accessed Sept. 21, 2011

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Gov. Chris Christie says Jersey Shore water quality is ‘perfect’

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