Beach Health & Water Quality

Keeping Beaches Clean

1. Identify Pollution Sources

    An important part of curbing beach and water pollution is to find out where it's coming from. Then people can start doing something about it. Communities or citizen groups can draft appropriate policies and take necessary action. But each individual person and family can help—by adopting certain stewardship practices both at home and at the beach. There are several possible sources for fecal pollution of water and beaches. Local sewer lines may discharge sewage directly into the lake, a tributary river, or into the underground, from where it can seep into surface waters. Cracked or crumbling sewage pipes may leak and release pathogens into the groundwater, which may in turn seep into a body of water in the area. Since animal wastes may carry fecal pathogens, large bird populations such as waterfowl or seagulls are a potential source of contamination. In addition, pollution problems may be directly related to beach users and their pets, particularly at crowded beaches.

2. Stopping Sewage Overflows

    Sewage overflows are one of the most common reasons for fecal pollution and beach closings. In many communities, stormwater is funneled into the sanitary sewer system. Fecal pollution problems often arise during heavy rainstorms when large quantities of water overwhelm the sewer system, which overflows and discharges a mixture of rainwater and sewage into lakes and streams. Many communities have recognized these problems and take measurements to prevent them. Efficient strategies to reduce overflows include:
  • Smart and controlled development ensures that sewer systems have enough capacity to handle the wastes of new households and businesses. In the past, uncontrolled sprawl, as a result of poor planning, has often led to pushing already struggling treatment plants over the edge by connecting new homes and businesses.
  • "Green" engineering: native grasses and other soft landscapes can absorb and retain water during heavy rains.
  • Wetlands and other vegetated soils help filter rainwater and return it naturally to the ground without straining the sewers.
  • Using rain blockers to reduce the impact of storms in certain areas. Rain blockers are devices that cause streets to temporarily flood while preventing sewage from backing up in homes.
  • Regular maintenance of the sewer system keeps sediment and debris from taking up capacity that could otherwise be used to store wastewater until treated.

3. Curbing Pollution at home

    Practicing water conservation and reducing stormwater runoff at home can ease pollution to local waterways and beaches…and every bit counts. Here are a few things you can do to help ease pollution:
  • During storms, delay activities that require a lot of water, such as doing laundry, washing dishes, or sprinkling the lawn.
  • Keep your septic system in proper order by having it pumped out annually and inspected regularly.
  • Reduce the amount of paved surfaces and increase the area of vegetated soil on your property.
  • Separate the downspouts from your roof from the sanitary sewer.
  • Properly dispose of your pet's waste on and off your property.

4. Being a Responsible Beachgoer

  • Plan ahead and bring a trash bag with you on your next trip. Many beaches now require that all visitors take home everything they bring, including their trash. This is a good idea for all beaches. Plan very far ahead and get involved in one of the yearly Coastal Cleanup campaigns that normally take place during the fall. Trash attracts gulls, raccoons, and opossums to the beaches. The wildlife in turn leaves its waste at the beach.
  • Keep your septic system in proper order by having it pumped out annually and inspected regularly.
  • Don't feed seagulls or any other wildlife. If fed frequently, they will spend more time on beaches and leave more wastes behind.
  • Use common sense in sanitary issues--make sure that your children or pet don't void into the water or sand.

5. Eliminating Boating Waste

  • When you go boating, don't empty your waste into the water. Instead, discharge your waste at pump-out stations, which are located at virtually every harbor.