Are You Swimming in Sewage?


Do you enjoy splashing in your stream and swimming in your local lake? Does your dog jump into your local creek at every chance? You may think you know whether it’s safe to be in the water, but depending on where you live, there’s a good chance you have no idea… and with hundreds of billions of raw and partially treated sewage getting into our waters every year, you really need to know.

There is no consistent national standard requiring sewage system operators to alert the public about spills, putting public health at-risk. States vary in whether and how the public should be notified when there’s a spill, making it hard to keep your family safe if you don’t know what’s in your water.

The good news – progress is being made:

  • In South Carolina, legislation American Rivers supported, the Three Strikes Law, was passed and signed by Governor Haley. The new law requires public notification of sewage spills over 5,000 gallons and sewage systems with chronic problems must evaluate their systems and make plans to minimize sewage pollution (this is especially good news considering we rated South Carolina poorly in our 2007 report What’s In Your Water: The State of Public Notification in 11 States [PDF]).
  • New York City is installing remote sensors in a number of locations that will alert the City, and the public, about sewer spills and potential health risks in real time, and at the same time, the New York legislature is considering legislation to improve monitoring and notification.

Until we can ensure that there are consistent requirements for sewage spill notification for all Americans, we should support cities and states that are working to understand and notify the public when the waters are safe for swimming, splashing and playing, and keep fighting to increase investments in smart approaches to fixing our crumbling water infrastructure.