10 Simple things individuals can do to help improve beachwater quality

veryone can help reduce beach water pollution by reducing the amount of water he or she sends to sewage treatment plants that have the potential to overflow, using best management practices to reduce polluted runoff, and disposing of boating waste properly. Individuals can also make a difference by becoming educated and voicing their desire for good, healthy water quality.
  1. Conserve water. Conserve the amount of water you use at home. Extra water overwhelms sewage treatment plants and contributes to raw sewage overflows. 1) Do not let the water run unnecessarily when brushing your teeth, shaving, or washing dishes: save 9-25 gallons each time. 2) Install a displacement device in your toilet such as a small plastic bottle, or install a low-flush toilet: save thousands of gallons annually. 3) Install water conservation devices on your faucets and shower: save 50 percent of water previously used. 4) Use a bucket and sponge instead of a hose when washing your car: save over 100 gallons.

  2. Decrease toilet flushing. Try not to flush your toilet during heavy rains. This will reduce the amount of water and waste going to sewage treatment plants. Heavy rains can overwhelm treatment plants and sewage is then diverted to outfall points that discharge raw sewage directly into the ocean or bay.

  3. Maintain septic systems. Monitor your tank yearly and have a reputable contractor remove sludge and scum every three to five years to prevent solids from escaping the absorption system. Fecal matter from malfunctioning septic systems can contaminate beaches.
  4. Curb your pets. Pick up animal waste when walking your pet and dispose of it in the garbage to reduce animal waste in polluted storm water runoff.

  5. Practice proper lawn care. Use natural fertilizers such as compost on your garden and minimize use of pesticides. Landscape with natural vegetation rather than lawns, which require fertilizers and pesticides. This can reduce the amount of runoff and pollution.

  6. Practice proper marine and recreational boating-wastes disposal. Dispose of your boat sewage in onshore sanitary facilities. Don't dump sewage or trash overboard. Boating wastes discharged into coastal waters can be a significant cause of high fecal coliform concentrations.

  7. Learn about the water quality at local beaches. Ask your local health official: 1) What are the sources of pollution affecting the waters where you swim? 2) What sort of water-quality monitoring is performed at these beaches? 3) Are beaches always closed when monitoring shows that the bacterial standard is exceeded? 4) What is the current status of these waters (are they closed or open), and what warning signs can you look for?

  8. Choose your beaches carefully. Whenever possible, swim at the beaches that your research shows have the cleanest waters or are carefully monitored with strict closure or advisory procedures in effect. Beaches adjacent to open ocean waters, and beaches that are removed from urban areas, generally pose less of a health risk than beaches in developed areas or in enclosed bays and harbors with little water circulation. Stay away from beaches with visible discharge pipes and avoid swimming at urban beaches after a heavy rainfall.

  9. Wade or bathe without submerging your head. If you feel there is a possibility that a local beach is polluted, do not put your head in the water. By avoiding beach water ingestion, you will significantly reduce your chance of contracting a swimming-associated illness. Try to keep children from splashing in water you suspect is polluted.

  10. Support local, state, and federal legislation that promotes the cleanup of pollution sources. Write to your Congressperson and the Senators of your state; let them know you support clean water and safe beaches. SUPPORT policies which stop new hookups to the system without adequate infrastructure improvement and expansion!

From Testing the Waters, Volume VI, National Resources Defense Council, July 1996.