NRDC Says Beware the Water at Nation’s Beaches

Just in time for your summer beach vacation, the Natural Resources Defense Council releases its annual report on water quality at the nation’s beaches. Here are a few bites from the NRDC apple:

“America’s beaches are plagued by a sobering legacy of water pollution, including bacteria-laden human and animal waste,” said NRDC Water Program Director Steve Fleischli.

“So when people dive into the ocean, it can make them sick with a range of waterborne illnesses including stomach flu, skin rashes, pink eye, ear nose and throat problems, dysentery, hepatitis, respiratory ailments, neurological disorders and other serious health problems.”

The NRDC identifies polluted stormwater discharge as the culprit behind most beach closings.

“When it rains, the water carries trash, chemicals, oil, animal waste — you name it — off the paved streets of our communities into sewers and ultimately to our beach.”

The NRDC, of course, has an agenda. But it’s absolutely true that non-treated stormwater discharge is a huge problem. Although we have made great improvements in protecting the nation’s waters, we obviously have a long way to go.

A few weeks back I blogged about water quality issues in Kansas. Incidentally, I received a reply from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to my questions about the source of pollutants, and possible solutions. In short, the department said that it’s a mix of influences that affect water quality. These influences include agriculture, urban stormwater runoff, discharge from municipal wastewater treatment plants, and nutrients from many sources including all that fertilizer some people dump on their lawns, just to name a few. As for remedies, the simplest fix is to buffer streams with riparian areas, filter strips, stream setbacks, and so on.

Like many environmental issues, protecting our streams and lakes and oceans is a matter of commitment, a commitment of time and money and a commitment to change behavior and practices (such as agricultural practices). Unfortunately, there is little emphasis, or incentive, or momentum right now to change anything. It’s a sour note to end a beach post on, but I firmly believe that to fix a problem, one must first recognize the problem, and the problem, very clearly, is that environmental considerations rank very, very low on our to-do list in this country.

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