The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released new water-quality guidelines for recreational areas such as beaches this week, but Marylandís own regulations already are in line with the standards.
The criteria, which are designed to protect swimmers from exposure to contaminated water, use the concentration of E. coli and enterococci bacteria as indicators of fecal contamination, a source of illness.
Contamination is measured by the number of colony-forming units per 100 milliliters of water. The average amount of enterococci — a measurement for marine water — should be limited to 35 such units, while E. coli — a measurement for fresh water — should limited to 126 units, according to the guidelines, which are in line with similar standards recommended by the EPA in 1986.
Those figures are estimated to limit illnesses from contaminated water to 36 for every 1,000 people.
The guidelines arenít binding, meaning each state can set its own regulatory criteria.
ďMarylandís criteria already meet EPA guidelines,Ē said Jay Apperson, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.
State regulations adhere to the 36 illnesses per 1,000 standard, according to MDE.
Nearby states including Delaware, Pennsylvania and North Carolina meet a similar standard, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Maryland ranked 11th out of 30 for water quality among coastal and Great Lakes states in 2011, exceeding the recommended standards in 6 percent of beach water samples, according to NRDC.
Delaware ranked highest, exceeding standards in only 1 percent of samples taken, while Louisiana ranked lowest, exceeding its standards in 29 percent of samples, according to NRDC.
The new EPA guidelines also included a second, more stringent, set of recommendations, estimated to limit illness to 32 per 1,000 people. Those recommendations call for a maximum average of 30 enterococci units and 100 E. coli units.
Steve Fleischli, the water program director at NRDC, said states such as Maryland could continue to improve their water quality by adopting the tougher guidelines.