Mar. 17—Washington state's annual assessment of the water safety at public marine beach areas is in — and there's good news for most of the 59 beaches sampled during the 2022 season.

The Beach Environmental Assessment, Communication & Health program, or BEACH, found that 91.5 percent of marine beaches sampled in 2022 were at passing levels for safety. That represents a 14.5% improvement from 2021, one of the worst years on record. In fact, 2015 was the last time that safety levels were as poor.

BEACH monitors and checks for fecal matter to ensure safe swimming levels. Fecal matter can come from dogs, humans, seagulls and seals. The areas being monitored are sampled repeatedly between Memorial Day and Labor Day every year.

People who are kayaking, swimming, scuba diving or windsurfing can get sick with ailments like a skin rash, gastroenteritis, upper respiratory infections and other illnesses if the water has an unsafe level of fecal matter.

A beach with unsafe levels can be also be a risk for people who are just walking along the shore beachcombing or shellfishing. There's an even greater risk for children and people who are immunocompromised. Pets can also be affected.

The BEACH program is run under the Washington State Department of Ecology, and monitors marine water for swimming and playing through partnerships with counties and local partners like the Surfrider Foundation.

The BEACH annual report evaluates the previous year of sampling for safe levels of fecal matter. The sampled beaches from the 2022 report are in 12 counties throughout the state, including Pierce, Thurston, King and Whatcom counties.

A beach is considered passing if it has no more than one sampling event that exceeds the swimming standard.

How do you know if a marine beach is safe?

Aside from minding warning signs that are posted when testing levels say a beach isn't safe, it's recommended to check the BEACH monitoring website's interactive map for updates.

Places with a closure are marked in red, caution areas are yellow and locations that are safe are marked in green.

When you're at a beach and coming into contact with sand and water, even if you aren't swimming, it's recommended to keep your hands washed, especially if you are eating or drinking.

How did Pierce County beaches do in 2022?

Pierce County is home to six marine beach areas that are monitored by Ecology's BEACH program. They include:

Dash Point Metro Park

Situated at the north end of Dash Point State Park and just east across Commencement Bay from the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Dash Point Metro Park had a spotless record for water safety last year.

Throughout the 2022 sampling season, the water was checked 16 times and the quality tested as "excellent" for all periods. Just steer clear of the pier, which has been closed since 2021 for structural repairs. The 700 feet of sandy beaches with picnic facilities remain open to visitors.

Jack Hyde Park

Just off Ruston Way, northeast of Tacoma's Old Town off of Star Street is Jack Hyde Park. Replete with grassy areas and paved walkways leading to the water, the beach and park have stunning views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.

The park was sampled 15 times in the 2022 sampling period, and had two results that were elevated on June 6 and July 18 when levels were in swimming advisory range. Later samples showed bacteria levels in safe ranges.

Purdy Sand Spit County Park

A popular place for spotting water fowl like the elusive blue heron and heading out to go boating, the Purdy Sand Spit runs along SR 302 northwest of Gig Harbor. The 7.5-acre unimproved waterfront public area runs between Burley Lagoon and Henderson Bay. It has easy beach access from nearby parking lots and is popular for beachcombing, dog walking and swimming.

The Spit was sampled 16 times in 2022 and passed with flying colors for its water quality, meeting the mark of "excellent."

Sunnyside Beach Park

Tucked away at the north end of Steilacoom is the quiet and idyllic Sunnyside Beach State park with its stunning views and easy access. Known as a spot for beginner underwater divers, Sunnyside also has picnic tables and a playground.

Sunnyside Beach Park got an "excellent" water quality ranking for the 16 times it was checked during the 2022 sampling season.

Titlow Park

This 75-acre waterfront park is home to a spray park, playground, picnic shelters and is situated next to a lagoon. It has diving and beach access, and there are trails to the beach and the lagoon that are both around one mile long.

During the 2022 sampling season, Titlow Park was sampled 15 times. The water quality was "very good" and met safe swimming standards for all periods tested.

Ruston Way Waterfront Park

Part of a two-mile scenic waterfront area along Puget Sound's Commencement Bay, the Ruston Way Waterfront is a popular place to go walking, rollerblading and bicycling. It's made up of several parks, including Jack Hyde Park, and has multiple water access points for boating, trails and accessing the beach.

The beach at Ruston Way Waterfront Park was sampled 15 times in 2022 and earned "excellent" status, meaning the water quality remained safe for swimming and water contact throughout the season.

This story was originally published March 17, 2023, 11:40 AM.

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