Summer, the Beach and Clean Water

Photo: Thomas Northcut / Getty Images

As the heat of summer descends upon us, more people think about going to the beach. This is the first year since my knee surgery that I am able to walk on the beach and I am walking in shallow water as part of my physical therapy.

There are always families with dogs and babies in diapers enjoying the water and the beach.  The ocean is usually a beautiful aqua color which makes me wonder how there could be any bacteria out there, possible sources and how clean is the water really.

The DailyGreen posted an interesting article about sources of bacteria, possible solutions and a link to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s annual report on the water quality of our beaches.  Naturally I checked the beach I frequent and felt much better after finding the waters are tested on a weekly basis and so far the water looks good.  If you are fortunate enough to live near the ocean or you are planning a vacation to the beach this summer check your destination beach.

From TheDailyGreen and Dan Shapely.

More than 24,000 instances of water contamination were documented in 2010, and only 44% of public beaches have their water quality tested at least weekly.

There’s nothing quite so enjoyable as enjoying a summer day at the beach. Unfortunately, while the Environmental Protection Agency reports that 95% of public beaches in the U.S. were open in 2010, the Natural Resources Defense Council released its annual Testing the Waters report today, painting a different picture. There were more than 24,000 beach closures and swimming advisories posted at U.S. beaches in 2010, according to the report. And, perhaps more worrisome, only 55% of beaches routinely test water quality, and only 44% of beaches test water quality weekly.

Water pollution is most likely to present hazardous swimming conditions after heavy rains. Rainwater washes waste into storm drains, streams and rivers, and those wastes are carried to the lakes and oceans where we swim. In addition, in many communities, old and aging sewage systems routinely overflow in heavy rains, either because the systems were originally designed to carry both sewage and stormwater, or because cracks in aging pipes allows for infiltration. In either case, sewage overflows and washes, ultimately, into the places where we swim.

The longterm solutions to the problem involve improving infrastructure. Green roofs and pervious pavement, for instance, allows rainwater to seep into the ground, rather than run off after heavy rains. And upgraded sewage systems separate human wastes from rain water, avoiding overflows. When politicians discuss green jobs, these are the types of projects that could employ “green collar” workers, though they typically require big public investments of tax dollars.

In the short term, it makes sense to ask some questions before stepping in the water. Ask officials who run your beach how often the water is tested, and what those tests have revealed; typically local or state health departments are responsible for water quality monitoring. Choose to swim at beaches where water quality is tested frequently, where test results generally reveal conditions to be clean, and where swimming advisories are posted promptly if testing reveals a concern. If there’s a discharge pipe nearby, or there hasn’t been a test since the last rainstorm, think twice before wading in.

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