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Put Down Your Beach Towel: 10 States Where You Should Think Twice Before Jumping in the Water

If you're planning to hit the beach this summer, here's the scoop on which beaches have the worst water quality issues.

It's that time of year again -- folks are donning swimsuits, grabbing beach chairs, and heading for the water to cool down. It's also the time of year when the Natural Resources Defense Council releases its annual report, " Testing the Waters," detailing the cleanliness of the water we're diving into.

In 2010, NRDC found that the number of beach closings and advisories reached 24,091 -- the second highest in the 21 years the organization has been compiling its report. Mostly the report focuses on tracking bacteria in the water, which accounted for nearly 75 percent of closings and advisories in the last year. The culprit? "Across the country, aging and poorly designed sewage treatment systems and contaminated stormwater are often to blame for beachwater pollution," the report states.

That's bad news for swimmers and those who make a living from the beach crowd. Contaminated waters from sewage overflows and leaks can cause a variety of health problems, from stomach flus and skin rashes to meningitis, hepatitis and respiratory infections. The report states that in L.A. and Orange counties fecal contamination caused between 627,800 and 1,479,200 gastrointestinal illnesses in a year. And it's likely many, many more cases went unreported. Each year around 3.5 million people get sick because of sewage overflows and 10 trillion gallons of untreated stormwater are released into our waterways.

If those numbers are making you a little queasy, that's nothing compared to how business owners may feel. NRDC reports that 85 percent of all the tourism revenue in the country comes from coastal states. In 2007, counties along the coasts contributed $5.6 trillion to our GDP and recorded 47 million jobs.

As Gulf states residents know, beach closings and advisories are more than just health risks -- they can be economically destructive as well. The NRDC report also looked at the impact of our largest oil spill. From the start of the Deepwater Horizon spill until mid-June of this year, there were 9,474 days of notices, advisories and closures at Gulf beaches.

Before we look at just why are beaches are so contaminated and what we can do about it, let's check out the 10 states that are the worst offenders.

10. Alabama

The bad news starts off down south. Alabama reports having 97 coastal beaches. Of those beaches 8 percent were monitored for water quality more than once a week, 12 percent were monitored once a week, 5 percent every two weeks, and sadly 74 percent were not monitored at all. So the majority of beachgoers in Alabama may not have a very good idea of how clean the water actually is. Water samples that were collected exceeded the national standards 10 percent of the time.

Oh, and the state doesn't actually order beaches to be closed if they do exceed the standards, it just issues an advisory -- so heads-up to swimmers.

9. California

The state has a whole lot of beaches -- 500 miles and over 400 beaches on the ocean and San Francisco Bay. California does a decent job of monitoring, with 62 percent of beaches checked once a week and less than 1 percent not monitored at all. Although, ideally it would be great to know daily how clean the water is that you're swimming or surfing in since California exceeds national standards 10 percent of the time.

Unfortunately California is also on the short-list of repeat offender states that NRDC has tracked over the last six years. The state had six beaches on this list where sampling exceeded national standards over 25 percent of the time and over the course of the last several years.

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