Long Island beachgoers got lucky last year, with slightly cleaner water and fewer days when beaches were closed compared to 2009, according to a report released Wednesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The national advocacy group found that most water samples from local beaches met state health standards.
Nassau and Suffolk counties saw a modest decline in the number of samples exceeding bacteria limits. The Island also had 63 percent fewer days when officials either had to close beaches or warn people not to swim.
At Jones Beach Wednesday, beachgoers said they've noticed improved water quality.
"The beach is much cleaner compared to the past two years," said Fina Picca, 32, of Queens, who has taken her daughters to the popular sunbathing spot for three years. "My girls like it a lot."
The good news, though, comes with a major caveat.
Dry weather last year had more to do with the overall improvement than any substantial decreases in water pollution, said Lawrence Levin, an NRDC attorney. That's because bacteria levels tend to spike after heavy rains, which sweep motor oil, animal waste and other pollutants into rivers and bays.
The 21st annual report analyzed government water quality data for more than 3,000 U.S. beaches. Nationally, 8 percent of water samples violated health standards last year -- up from 7 percent in 2009.
In Nassau, the opposite was true: Seven percent of beach-water samples exceeded health standards in 2010, compared with 8 percent the previous year. Suffolk had a 5 percent violation rate last year, down from 6 percent.
The report also rated 200 of the nation's most popular beaches, assigning up to five stars based on how clean the water was, how often it was monitored and how the public was notified of violations. Central Mall beach at Jones Beach State Park received four stars, thanks to improvements in water quality and more frequent testing.
The dirtiest Long Island beaches not permanently closed to swimming were Suffolk's Tanner Park in Copiague, and Laurel Hollow Village Beach in Nassau. Tanner Park had 25 closure or advisory days, with 21 percent of water samples violating health standards. Laurel Hollow Village Beach had 27 such days and a 15 percent violation rate.
There were 137 Island beaches last year with no violations, closures or warnings, the report found.
Advocates said the best way to keep beach waters clean is to prevent pollution from getting there. Options include using rain barrels and permeable pavement, and putting filters in storm drains -- something Nassau has done at some 1,900 catch basins.
With Ibrahim Hirsi