Too often seawater is soaked in sewage and pollutants, affecting the safety of beaches for swimming and surfing – this is the message of this year’s Clean Water Report released on Tuesday 25 May by the Surfrider Foundation.
âWe believe that the water should always be clean. We should be able to do this under all but the most unusual circumstances, âsaid Chad Nelsen, CEO of San Clemente-based Surfrider Foundation. But instead, the report highlights inefficiencies in sewerage infrastructure and the need to stop urban runoff before it reaches the coast, the two main contributors to the dirty water plaguing them. coasts of the country.
âWe think we should have zero tolerance for ocean pollution,â Nelsen said. “Our oceans are so vital to our economy, our recreation, our health, not to mention marine ecosystems.”
Surfrider offers two solutions that policymakers can focus on to keep the oceans healthy: managing sewer infrastructure to ensure systems are up to date, and doing a better job of encouraging the use of susceptible landscapes. ” soak up pollutants before they reach waterways.
Rainwater and wastewater
Despite the high value of clean beaches, the quality of coastal waters is threatened by stormwater, urban and agricultural runoff, sewage and industrial discharges, the report says.
Nearly 10 trillion gallons of untreated stormwater flow into US waterways each year, causing a “cocktail of pollutants, including road dust, oil, animal waste, fertilizers and water. ‘other chemicals’.
Sewage spills and infrastructure failures release more than 900 billion gallons of untreated sewage into surface water each year, according to Surfrider’s report, which may contain bacteria, viruses and parasites that make people sick with gastrointestinal symptoms, rashes, skin and eye infections, and flu- like symptoms.
âYears of neglect have also left America’s wastewater treatment infrastructure in disrepair, obsolete and failing,â the report said. âWastewater discharges and failing wastewater treatment infrastructure threaten the quality of coastal waters by discharging raw and contracted wastewater into local waterways and the ocean.â
Orange County can be an example of how cost effective updating sewage systems is. According to a report published by the OC Health Care Agency earlier this month there were fewer beach closures due to sewage spills in 2020 than what has been generally seen over the past three decades. And the frequency of closures has been decreasing for several years.
Orange County is a good case study for the rest of the country, Nelsen said.
âIf you invest in infrastructure, we can drastically reduce the number of spills,â he said. âOrange County is doing well and other places are really challenged.â
According to the OC Health Care Agency report, 88 sewage spills were reported in 2020. The 33-year average is 191 spills per year and in 2019 there were 123. The peak spills occurred in 2003 with 408 and there has been a decline since.
In 2020, only 2% of reported spills required the closure of the ocean, ports or bay waters – only twice has the ocean been declared closed. The majority of sewage spills, about 62%, occurred because of blocked sewer lines.
One of the main goals of Surfrider Foundation this year is to seek funds to enable local governments to modernize their wastewater treatment systems through the Clean Water State Revolving of the Environmental Protection Agency, a federal-state partnership that provides provide communities with low cost funding for a wide range of water quality infrastructure projects.
Testing the waters
Surfrider is also pushing for better water quality monitoring programs, with more federal government funding for coastal communities.
With more funding, water quality testing can be done at more beaches in the area and with faster results. Currently, it takes around 24 hours to retrieve test results, although advancements such as rapid testing are underway, Nelsen said.
âWe know that the water quality can vary by the hour and at the beach, tens of meters,â he said. “This would allow us to have more locations, more often and more times a year.”
In addition to government agencies that conduct tests on beaches, Surfrider has a blue water task force that sets out to collect water samples across the country.
In 2020, 51 working group laboratories processed 5,796 water samples from 501 sampling sites; As the Blue Water Task Force collected fewer samples last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program has expanded to cover more beaches across the country, the report says. .
Another way to mitigate urban runoff that flows into the ocean is to focus on what is on land, the report says.
Kai Craig, a landscape professional who is part of the Long Beach Chapter’s Ocean Friendly Gardens program, was highlighted in the report.
Craig runs California Eco Design, which uses a âwatershed approachâ to transform backyards into âbeautiful, functioning ecosystemsâ using drought-tolerant plants rather than water-hungry lawns.
Roofs, sidewalks, streets and parking lots – all man-made structures – are places where water flows and washes away pet waste, oil and grease from cars, pesticides and other contaminants. in the watershed, Nelsen said.
âHe fled to the beach. He never touches Earth. If we can create more permeable surfaces, we give the water the ability to absorb into the soil, âhe said.
When runoff passes through vegetation, toxins are removed.
âThat’s why it’s safe to surf in Trestles, not the Newport river piers,â Nelsen said. âOne is the natural watershed, the other is urbanized.
âWe are trying to build these little gardens to show, demonstrate, how we can absorb water,â he said. âIf we’ve done this on a landscape scale, we can eliminate the problems. Each parking lot can be designed to absorb the first inch of rain. “
An example can be found at Crystal Cove Promenade, where, through advocacy from the non-profit organization Orange County Coastkeepter and the City of Laguna Beach, it is mandatory for the parking lot to collect rainwater in a ‘valley. landscaped âbefore it reaches the coast, Nelsen mentioned.
âI think we shouldn’t build another parking lot or repav a street without building it to collect the first inch of rain,â Nelsen said. âIt’s a good example of what’s possible. It’s not intrusive, no one knows it’s even there.
Ultimately, it’s about finding ways to keep human impact out of the ocean.
âIf we were doing this everywhere,â Nelsen said, âwe could be surfing after it rains.â