Just in time for summer, the Natural Resources Defense Council has reminded us why polluted beachwater could give you pinkeye. The NRDC released its annual beach water quality report on Wednesday, and for the third year in a row found that beach closing days in 2012 topped 20,000 nationwide. Eighty-three percent of those closings were because of heightened bacteria levels in the water as a result of human or animal waste.
This isn’t new news, unfortunately. Stormwater runoff has been a persistent contaminant in our waterways at more than 10 trillion gallons a year—and the gut bacteria detected can come from human bathrooms, in addition to all the pet poop that gets flushed down drains from the impermeable sidewalk.
As a result, the NRDC has called on the EPA to put new limits on stormwater retention volumes for development sites, and actively enforce its existing standards. The NRDC would like to see the EPA make decisions that yield green infrastructure—like green roofs, rain barrels, street trees, and other organic matter that could soak up precipitation instead of sending it to overburdened sewer systems.
To some extent, this does happen on the local level. Washington D.C., for example, has a green roof subsidy program that rebates green space at $3 a square foot. Philadelphia’s stormwater fee system, meanwhile, provides hefty discounts for property owners who install their own stormwater retrofits. New York City is also investing more than $1 billion in green infrastracture to deal with combined sewer overflow.
Congratulations if you were magically whisked away to Delaware, by the way. The state ranked number one for the percentage of its beaches that didn’t exceed contamination levels.