You never know what lurks in the water at South Florida beaches, but soon swimmers may face a new element of uncertainty.
The Obama administration's proposed 2014 budget would eliminate funds to states to test the water quality at beaches, which means there will be fewer water samples taken to determine the presence of human or animal waste.
Molly Koon Kellogg, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health, said the federal cuts would result in a five percent reduction in testing.
Last year, Florida received $516,000, some of which went to test for enterococcus bacteria at 48 locations in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. These bacteria indicate the presence of human or animal waste, which contains pathogens that can cause illnesses such as salmonella, shigellosis and hepatitis A.
The tests occasionally reveal unhealthy bacteria concentrations, and if retesting confirms it, a swimming advisory will be posted. Last year, for example, bad test results led to swimming advisories for several days in Hallandale Beach, Hollywood and Dania Beach.
Mara Dias, water quality manager for Surfrider Foundation, an ocean protection group, said the cut would save the federal government less than $10 million, a modest sum compared to the protection provided to the public.
Last year the administration proposed a similar cut, but the money was restored by Congress.
The Environmental Protection Agency said Friday that states should be able to continue the programs on their own, now that they've developed the technical expertise to do so.
"The agency anticipates that more than 10 years of investing in state capacity building has prepared states and local governments to continue to provide beach protection after federal support ends," the EPA said.
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