NRDC Water Quality Survey Released

Written by Sarah Worley

Last week the National Resource Defense Counsel released its annual survey of water quality. The National Resource Defense Counsel is an international non-profit organization that works to protect the world’s natural resources, public health and the environment. Each year they conduct a survey to evaluate water quality and the public notification system at beaches throughout the country. This year’s report had shocking results; the number of beach closings and advisories was 24,091. This is the 2nd highest number recorded in the 21 years NRDC began tracking.

The report focuses mostly on bacterial pollution closures, with the exception of reporting closures and advisory notices at beaches influenced by the BP oil disaster. The reason they focus on bacterial levels is because it is the most common reason officials close beaches; in fact, over 70% of closures were the result of bacteria levels in excess of health and safety standards. Some factors that cause these incidents include excessive storm water runoff, dredging, algae blooms, and known contamination events like sewage plant or pipe failures. However, over half of the advisories or closings were because of an unknown source of pollution.

The EPA estimates that 10 trillion gallons of untreated storm water makes its way to rivers, lakes and oceans each year. This is because most storm drains lead directly to waterways without being treated. The NRDC suggests that the volume of storm water that flows into these bodies of water should be reduced by implementing green water programs that restore or mimic natural soil filtration. The use of porous pavement, green roofs, parks and roadside plantings reduce the runoff and allow storm water to flow through the ground and filter naturally without overwhelming sewer systems. The NRDC also suggests that the “Combined Sewage Systems” that various cities use should be evaluated and revamped. A combined sewage system allows raw sewage and runoff to flow together to nearby bodies of water during periods of significant rainfall when the nearest sewage plant is overwhelmed.

The EPA also estimates that confined livestock operations, or feedlots, generate 3 times more contaminated water waste than the general population. Feedlots pollute waterways by not having adequate runoff protections, which result in bacteria, virus, parasitic, and chemical contamination. The EPA’s efforts to crack down on the pollution has been difficult however, after the US Court of Appeals ruled that industrialized livestock operations are not required to obtain pollution control permits unless they discharge into protected waters. The NRDC hopes that future initiatives and regulations coming in October of 2011 will allow the EPA to better identify and regulate feedlots and other facilities that are susceptible to pollution problems.

The NRDC report suggests ways you can prevent water pollution today:

– Help keep the beach clean. Clean up your garbage, do not feed the wildlife and ensure that young children that aren’t toilet trained have the proper clothing to prevent bacteria from entering the water.

– Clean up after your pets. Pet feces contains harmful bacteria that can eventually pollute nearby water. Flush, bag or dispose of pet feces in a responsible manner.

– Conserve water. Sewer capacity is strained by excess water running through the system. Scrape, instead of rinsing plates, do not let the water run while brushing teeth or shaving, and install low flow toilets, shower-heads and faucet aerators.

– Direct home runoff to the soil instead of the street. Rain-gutters and downspouts should be directed to dirt, gravel or grass to allow for natural soil filtration. Additionally, you can invest in rain barrels for harvesting water for future use, such as watering your lawn.

– Dont pour chemicals, oil, paint or pharmaceuticals down the drain. Contact your local health department to find out about proper disposal sites.

– If you have a septic tank, have it cleared out every 3-5 years to prevent overflow and groundwater contamination.

– Practice earth friendly lawn and garden care. Dont use chemical fertilizers and make sure watering systems dont hit paved surfaces and run off.

– Dispose of boating sewage in onshore sanitation facilities. Do not dump waste or trash offshore.

– Finally, support legislation that promotes cleanup of pollution sources and learn about the water quality at local beaches. Make sure your legislatures know that you support strong clean water protections.

If you would like to see how your state beaches measure up, visit the Natural Resources Defense Councill at www.nrdc.org or this link for the full report.


Dorfman, Mark, and Kirsten Sinclair Rosselot. Testing The Waters. Rep. no. 21st. Natural Resource Defense Council, June 2011. Web. 6 July 2011. http://www.nrdc.org/water/oceans/ttw/ttw2011.pdf.

“NRDC: Testing the Waters 2011.” NRDC: Natural Resources Defense Council – The Earth’s Best Defense. Natural Resources Defense Council. Web. 06 July 2011. http://www.nrdc.org/water/oceans/ttw/titinx.asp.

About the author

Sarah Worley

Sarah is a wife and mother living on the central coast of California. She runs a small CSA where they have a myriad of farm animals including chickens, goats, pigs and bees. They grow a large percentage of their fruit, vegetables and meat and strive for sustainability and self-sufficiency on their 2 acre patch of heaven.