%	United States
Environmental Protection
\r hI #* Agency
Office of Water
EPA 823-F-18-001
May 2018
2017 Five-Year Review of the 2012
Recreational Water Quality Criteria
The EPA has completed a five-year review of its 2012
Recreational Water Quality Criteria (RWQC) as
required by BEACH Act amendments to the Clean
Water Act (CWA) Section 304(a)(9)(B). An important
goal of this review and report is to document the
assessment of whether revisions to the 2012 RWQC
are necessary. The focus of the review was the
science related to the protection of human health in
waters designated for primary contact recreation
(e.g., swimming, wading, surfing). On the basis of the
review described in the review report, the EPA has
decided not to revise the 2012 Recreational Water
Criteria during this review cycle. The Agency
believes, however, that further research and analysis
as identified in the report will contribute to the EPA's
future review of the 2012 RWQC.
The 2012 RWQC replaced the 1986 bacteria criteria,
which relied on a series of epidemiological studies
that the EPA conducted in the late 1970s and early
1980s to derive protective values for culturable
indicators of fecal contamination and illness in
swimmers (E. coli, enterococci, and other fecal
indicators such as fecal coliforms).
The 2012 RWQC were based on the latest research
and science including new epidemiology studies
conducted in the 2000s yielding revised values for E.
coli and enterococci designed to protect the public
from exposure to harmful levels of pathogens while
participating in water-contact activities in coastal
and non-coastal recreational waters.
In addition to providing explicit duration and
frequency components, the 2012 RWQC offer two
sets of numeric concentration thresholds
corresponding to two estimated illness rates, either
of which would protect human health.
New in the 2012 RWQC document were: 1) values
that protect public health similarly in both marine
and fresh waters; 2) use of two metrics to better
define the magnitude of the criteria (geometric
mean, or GM, and a statistical threshold value, or
STV); 3) a new tool for use in notification programs
(Beach Action Value, or BAV); 4) a single level of
criteria rather than different values based on use
intensity; and 5) more tools for assessing and
managing recreational waters, including the more
rapid qPCR technique for enterococcus (EPA Method
1611), and use of qPCR on a site-specific basis for
monitoring. For a more complete description of the
2012 RWQC, see:
Advances since release of the 2012 RWQC
This review describes much of the new science since
the time the EPA developed the 2012 RWQC. These
scientific developments are in the following areas:
health studies, methods, microbial source tracking,
coliphage criteria, antibiotic resistance, cyanotoxin
criteria/swimming advisories, RWQC
implementation tools, and criteria adoption.
Conclusions from the Review
Need for Revision of the 2012 RWQC: On the basis
of the review described in the report, the Agency has
decided not to revise the 2012 Recreational Water
Criteria during this review cycle. The Agency
believes, however, that further research and analysis
as identified in this Report will contribute to the

EPA's future review of the 2012 RWQC. The EPA will
work with the environmental public health
community as it moves forward with its research
efforts. The use of qPCR and ongoing research in
methods and indicators continue to strengthen and
augment the tools available to support the current
Health Studies and Performance of qPCR Methods:
Findings of health studies published since the
development of the RWQC are generally consistent
with the findings of studies that formed the basis for
the 2012 RWQC, and enhance the depth and
strength of the evidence underlying the RWQC.
Health studies show that Enterococcus spp.
measured by qPCR, is more predictive of Gl illness
and results are more timely than current bacterial
indicators measured by culture methods.
Protection of Children: A growing body of evidence
suggests that children can be disproportionately
susceptible to health effects of pathogen exposure.
There are opportunities for further resolution of
epidemiological relationships, especially in the area
of children's health protection.
Microbial Source Tracking fMST): Since 2012, there
has been significant progress toward the
implementation of human source identification
technologies. Accurate and reliable MST
technologies could dramatically improve water
quality management in the United States by allowing
the development of alternative site-specific criteria
and identifying opportunities for source
remediation. Alternative water quality metrics, such
as human markers, may also be helpful to inform risk
levels in wet weather conditions.
Antimicrobial Resistant Bacteria/Genes
(AMRB/ARG1: There is an increasing body of
literature available on the environmental occurrence
of AMRB/ARG in recreational waters. However, to
develop a more complete picture, additional
research is needed on the incidence, associated
risks, and transfer mechanisms in recreational
waters, as well on the removal of AMRB/ARG by
wastewater treatment processes. The EPA is in the
early stages of developing a broader surveillance
strategy and looking for meaningful opportunities to
improve human health related to exposures to
Coliphage as an indicator: Risk assessments,
epidemiological studies, and outbreak data indicate
that viruses cause most illnesses associated with
recreational waters impacted by human sources. The
EPA is exploring the development of recreational
criteria for such a viral indicator to augment the
bacterial indicators in the 2012 RWQC and advance
public health protection in recreational waters.
Implementation Tools: In this review the EPA
identified new sanitary survey tools, refinements of
predictive models such as EPA's Virtual Beach, and
process models for remediation and for use in
Quantitative Microbial Rick Assessments (QMRA).
Cvanotoxins in Recreational Waters: Recreators can
be exposed to cyanotoxins in ambient recreational
waters leading to increased health risks. Since the
2012 RWQC, the EPA has published draft
recreational criteria and/or swimming advisories for
the cyanotoxins microcystins and
cylindrospermopsin. These values and related
technical information and support materials provide
additional tools to protect public health in
recreational waters.
Next steps
In this review, the EPA has identified the priorities
for further work to utilize this new information so
that improvements to public health protection in
recreational waters continue. The Agency is in the
process of developing a plan to implement those
actions to build on the progress made over the past
five years and reduce barriers to criteria adoption.
Further research and analysis as identified in this
Report will contribute to the EPA's future review of
the 2012 RWQC.
Where can I find more information?
The report on the 2017 Five-Year Review of the 2012
RWQC and the 2012 RWQC Document are available
at: https://www.epa.gov/wqc/2012-recreational-
Additional information on recreational waters and
beach monitoring is available at: