From Green Right Now Reports

Nothing beats the beach when the heat of summer hits. But in today’s world, there are swimming beaches, and beaches that are best observed at distance from the water.

Safety at the beach requires watchfulness, and checking water quality.

These beaches are not so much for swimming, at least, not until you check to see if there’s a water quality alert that day, or even review the water quality record for that area.

Every year the Natural Resources Defense Council helps us sort out the cleanest, best-monitored beaches where we can splash carefree, and those where the waters may contain unhealthy levels of bacteria or sewage.

Sewage overflows cause many beaches to fail required periodic testing for bacteria levels.

High bacteria counts in water can cause an array of illnesses including stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, respiratory infections, meningitis and hepatitis, according to the NRDC, which just released its 2012 report on beaches.

An estimated 3.5 million people become sick every year from contact with raw sewage from overflows; other beaches with high levels of bacteria that form in warm waters from unknown sources also can trigger illnesses in swimmers.

The bottomline: Some beaches are safer than others, and you can consult the NRDC’s guide “Testing the Waters” to find out more.

In the meantime, here are the top 12 beaches that rated 5 stars on the NRDC’s rating system. They had low violation rates and have strong testing procedures in place. You can feel good about swimming here:

For more information on other beaches where you can swim without worry, and those where you should worry, check out the NRDC’s ratings list for the 200 most popular beaches.