Over 180 million Americans visit beaches each year to escape the sweltering summer heat. As global temperatures continue to rise, that number is bound to increase. Whether you cool off in the ocean or take a dip in your local swimming hole, assuming the water is clean and safe to swim in is no longer just another day at the beach. With increased pollution, storm-water run-off and sewage spills, beach advisories and beach closings are becoming more and more common. This is bad news for our waterways and bad news for the people who enjoy recreating in them-especially children and the elderly. Here are some ways to help keep your favorite beach (and yourself) safe from contaminants this summer.
Protect Your Beach From Home
Pollution and disease-causing bacteria may end up at the beach, but protecting water quality starts at home. Even if you live dozens of miles from the nearest lake or hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean, you still play a large role in the quality of the water there. Regardless of where you live, you live in a watershed - a specific land area that drains water into a river system or other body of water. And essentially, everyone lives downstream from someone else. Everything that runs down your drain, gets flushed down your toilet or ends up in your soil ultimately ends up in the water somewhere.
- Keep automotive fluids, pet waste and other pollutants out of storm drains.
- Reduce or eliminate the use of lawn fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and toxic cleaning products.
- Wash your car at a carwash that recycles water instead of washing it in your driveway or yard.
- Dispose of household hazardous waste properly. Never dump automotive fluids or cleaning supplies into toilets or down drains.
- Use a rain barrel or plant a rain garden to reduce urban run-off and conserve water.
- Maintain your septic system and have it pumped regularly to avoid leaks and spills.
- Do your part to conserve water. Garden with native plants and avoid water intensive activities like showers and clothes washing during heavy rainstorms.
At the Beach:
- Clean up after yourself and your pets. Dispose of litter properly. Bird and mammal waste carry fecal coliform, a disease-causing bacteria that contaminates water and puts swimmer's health at risk. The presence of these contaminants is often why beaches are closed. Whether you're at home, in the park or at the beach, be considerate of others and clean up after your pet!
- Be a responsible boater. Use caution when refueling over water and never dump sewage or trash overboard.
- Research a companies wastewater discharge policy before booking your next cruise. The cruise industry is largely responsible for policing themselves and unfortunately, not usually up to the task. Where regulations exist, it's often easier for them to pay the fines for dumping illegally that it is to comply with regulations.
- Organize or participate in an annual beach sweep. Designate a day to clean up your local beach and educate friends and neighbors on water quality.
Steering Clear of Contamination
Just like you check the weather conditions, before you head out for a day at the beach, check to see if any advisories have been posted regarding water quality. If you're unsure whether or not the water is safe to swim in, follow these simple guidelines to reduce your risks:
- Avoid going to the beach following a heavy rainfall. This is when bacteria and pollution levels tend to peak.
- Don't swim near drain outlets. Contaminants in present in these areas are concentrated because they haven't had the chance to be diluted by a large volume of water yet.
- Stay out of the water if you have open cuts or sores.
- Swim with your head above water and wear goggles. Avoid splashing water into your mouth and nose.
- Stay away from boat launches or areas where you see fuel, oil, dead fish or smell sewage.
- Swim in areas where the water is open and circulating, rather than in enclosed bays.