Headed to the beach this weekend? Before you go, check out NRDC’s annual beachwater quality report, which studied 3,000 beaches nationwide and ranked the top 200 most popular beaches. The report includes a handy tool to search by zip code for beaches in your area.

NRDC has studied beachwater quality for 22 years, and the news in the current report is not all good: 2011 had one of the highest number of closing and advisory days in two decades. Most of the closings happened after tests showed that bacteria levels in the water violated public health standards. The main cause? Pollution from stormwater runoff, with additional pollution coming from sewage overflows. The pollution can cause serious illness, ranging from hepatitis and neurological disorders to death.

The top pollution offenders
You might want to avoid the beaches on the report’s top 15 “Repeat Offenders,” which have suffered from consistently bad test results. These beaches have violated public health standards more than 25 percent of the time over the last four years.

  • California: Avalon Beach in Los Angeles County (3 of 5 monitored sections violated health standards):
    • Avalon Beach – West of Green Pleasure Pier (50 feet)
    • Avalon Beach – West of Green Pleasure Pier (100 feet)
    • Avalon Beach – East of Green Pleasure Pier
  • California: Doheny State Beach in Orange County (3 of 6 monitored sections):
    • Doheny State Beach – North of San Juan Creek
    • Doheny State Beach – Surfzone at Outfall
    • Doheny State Beach – 1000′ South Outfall
  • Illinois: Winnetka Elder Park Beach in Cook County
  • Illinois: North Point Marina North Beach in Lake County
  • Louisiana: Constance Beach in Cameron County
  • Louisiana: Gulf Breeze in Cameron County
  • Louisiana: Little Florida in Cameron County
  • Louisiana: Long Beach in Cameron County
  • Louisiana: Rutherford Beach in Cameron County
  • New Jersey: Beachwood Beach West in Ocean County
  • New York: Woodlawn Beach – Woodlawn Beach State Park in Erie County
  • New York: Ontario Beach in Monroe County

The best beaches
NRDC also awarded top ratings to beaches based on water quality, monitoring frequency and the quality of public notifications. Out of the 200 most popular beaches in the country, only 12 received NRDC’s 5-star rating.

  • California: Newport Beach in Orange County (2 of 3 monitored sections)
    • Newport Beach – 38th Street
    • Newport Beach – 52nd/53rd Street
  • California: Bolsa Chica Beach in Orange County
  • California: Huntington State Beach in Orange County
  • Alabama: Gulf Shores Public Beach in Baldwin County
  • Alabama: Gulf State Park Pavilion in Baldwin County
  • Delaware: Dewey Beach in Sussex County
  • Maryland: Ocean City at Beach 6 in Worcester County
  • Minnesota: Park Point Franklin Park / 13th Street South Beach Park Point in St. Louis County
  • Minnesota: Lafayette Community Club Beach in St. Louis County
  • New Hampshire: Hampton Beach State Park in Rockingham County
  • New Hampshire: Wallis Sands Beach in Rockingham County
  • Texas: South Padre Island in Cameron County
Learn more — and look up your local beach — at NRDC’s site.

Photo credit: dougww/Flickr