Texas beaches aren't awash in oil like those of some other Gulf Coast states, but they could be cleaner, a group of environmental advocates said today as it released an annual review of the nation's beaches.

Still, Texas had 27 percent fewer beach closings and beach health advisories in 2009 than it had in 2008, according to a report from Natural Resources Defense Council. In 2009, there were 231 days of closings and advisories, compared to 318 days the previous year.

Environment Texas, in presenting the report, said its authors could not identify causes for most of the closings and advisories in 2009 — 71 percent were attributed to unknown reasons. Stormwater runoff caused about 24 percent.

Kara Byrom, an organizer with Environment Texas, acknowledged that it would be hard to address the many unknown sources that cause problems on Texas beaches, or the rain that spurs stormwater runoff. But she said the state and the federal Environmental Protection Agency could do better at controlling chemicals and other pollutants that wind up in the runoff.

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Byrom said green infrastructures — such as rain gardens, tree boxes and wetlands — could naturally manage stormwater and improve water quality by soaking up the rain, as opposed to asphalt and cement, which allow stormwater to gather pollution and runoff into beaches.

As for the oil in the Gulf of Mexico, the only effect on Texas beaches has been about 117 cubic yards of tar balls that have washed ashore, an amount Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson described as miniscule. And he said tar balls are better than an oil slick because they're easier to clean. Besides, he said, Texas beaches have always had small amounts of tar.

“Forget canceling your beach vacations,” Patterson said. “There is no reason not to go to Texas beaches.”

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