Water pollution can come from a variety of sources, but one major issue that coastal communities are experiencing across the United States (and in other countries as well) is the impact of our failing wastewater infrastructure. To the surprise of many, our nation’s beaches, waterways and ocean are plagued by spills of raw and under-treated sewage. Much of our wastewater infrastructure is outdated and failing, releasing harmful pollution into our waters and putting the public — surfers, swimmers, ocean recreation enthusiasts and beachgoers alike — at risk of illness and direct exposure to dangerous bacteria…
The Surfrider Foundation’s Clean Water Initiative seeks to reduce the impacts of water pollution by eliminating them from the source. Year round, Surfrider volunteers test water samples from their local beaches and waterways to identify and address sources of pollution, while informing the public of hazardous conditions and health concerns. With the data collected by volunteers, Surfrider’s activist network works to influence and advocate for policies and legislation to address the sources of pollution that they encounter, from the local to the federal level.
So, how can you help? While large-scale change is needed to eliminate the problem entirely, we can all do our part to reduce our own impacts on the environment by considering — and sometimes adjusting — our own actions. Here are a few simple ways to take action to protect clean water from our friends, the experts at Surfrider:
Be mindful of what you flush and pour down the drain
Despite “flushable” labeling, wipes and other non-toilet-paper items can cause clogs and blockages in septic tanks and sewers alike, which prevent the normal flow and treatment of wastewater and result in sewage backing up and overflowing. In recent times, items like masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment have been found producing blockages (as well as polluting the natural environment at an alarming rate)— always be sure to dispose of these items properly, in the trash.
Cleaning agents and other chemical products, as well as cooking grease and oils should not be poured down the drain, as they can interfere with the wastewater treatment processes, clog pipes and pollute the environment (and even our drinking water!). Opting for more natural cleaning products that are less harmful to you and to the environment, as well as disposing of all chemicals and hazardous materials according to local regulations are important steps to help protect clean water in your community.
Conserve water inside your home
Conserving water is key to ensuring that our wastewater system is not inundated beyond its capacity, to help prevent sewage spills. Consider your household’s water usage and ways that you might be able to cut down in the long-term. This might include installing low-flow faucets, showerheads or toilets, or even actions as simple as turning off the tap while brushing your teeth or washing dishes in the sink. Find more tips for conserving water in your home here.
Conserve water and reduce runoff outside your home
If you have a yard or garden, considering your outdoor water usage is important as well. Take a look around your local community on your next walk or drive — how much of it is paved? As our communities become increasingly urbanized, the paved, impermeable surfaces that make up much of our cities do not allow rain to soak into the ground. Instead, rain runs off these surfaces, collecting pollutants from our streets and washing them into our storm drains and waterways. Help reduce runoff by directing any roof downspouts on your home into a rain barrel or vegetated area. You can also skip irrigation completely, replace water-intensive lawns with native plants, and add mulch to your landscaping to help soak up more rain and retain moisture. Even better, convert your yard to an Ocean Friendly Garden (OFG)— check out the links below to learn how.
- Overview of goals and simple steps to making your garden more Ocean Friendly
- Blog with how-to videos
- Downloadable OFG Checklist
Use your voice to support policies and legislation that prioritize clean water
Raw sewage threatens public health, coastal ecosystems and tourism-based ocean economies. Years of neglect have left our wastewater infrastructure vulnerable, and sea level rise and increasing coastal hazards associated with climate change will only make the situation worse.
Check out this Surfrider Foundation take action alert to send your own message to your representatives in support of increased federal funding for America’s failing wastewater infrastructure!
And that’s a wrap on this season of U Learn! Thanks so much for watching and reading along as we learn more about ocean and coastal conservation together with our friends at Surfrider. To keep learning and stay up to date on emerging science, policy and ways to take action, visit the Surfrider team at surfrider.org and find your local chapter.