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Friday, February 29, 2008

Wave-Riding Tragedy: For Many of Us, the Best Wave Days Have the Worst Water Pollution

It's a tragic fact that all-too-frequently the BEST, MOST ATTRACTIVE SURF is accompanied by HIGHLY POLLUTED COASTAL WATERS. How can that be?

Well, the same windy, over-the-ocean storms that generate the waves often reach our shores and dump substaintial rain in the coastal watershed, and that rain picks up not only polluted runoff from the surface of our land, but can also mix with sewage coming from spills and leaks in our inadequately maintained sewage system before flowing into our near shore waters. Who or what's to blame? For the most dangerous type of water pollution -- sewage -- we can blame our local, state, and federal governments for not investing enough money in sewage infrastructure. For polluted runoff, we can blame many, from developers to property owners to government on every level that approve development that paves over large portions of our coastal watersheds and for the most part refuse to take polluted runoff into proper consideration when designing systems for dealing with rainfall once it hits the ground. 

Oh, and who's to blame for the 2 young bodyboarders (in the photo above) who are unknowingly risking their own health while enjoying the good waves 18 hours after recent rain storms? Perhaps we can put a little blame on the well-meaning, local county government that nevertheless refuses to post water pollution warning signs on the beach when the water pollution is worst after rain storms. The same county government will, strangely enough, post warning signs during lesser pollution events during dry weather, creating the public impression that the lack of beach warning signs on a beach means safe ocean water quality, even after a significant rainfall. Which begs the question: if the county doesn't post beach warning signs after rainfall, but does post signs for lesser pollution events, would it be better never to post any warning signs at all?

Posted by Mark Babski, down the street from Surfrider Foundation headquarters in San Clemente, CA.


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