Bad News for Clean Water: EPA Misses Deadline to Propose Updates to Better Manage Polluted Runoff

It’s early June and may be just about time to start thinking about a summer vacation. For many, it might be a quick trip to the beach for some time in the sun and ocean. In fact, the typical American spends 10 recreational days along the coast every year. Or perhaps you may spend a day paddling a river or swimming at a nearby lake.

One thing you may not think about is whether your favorite beach will be closed due to poor water quality, making swimming unsafe. However, in 2011 approximately 36 percent of beach closures were caused by polluted runoff. In fact, polluted runoff is one of the major sources of water pollution across the country. In the Long Island Sound alone, polluted runoff is responsible for 47 percent of contamination by pathogens such as bacteria and viruses that can make people sick.

This pollution is caused when rainwater hits hard surfaces like roads and rooftops and then washes chemicals, excess nutrients, harmful bacteria, and other pollutants into local rivers, lakes, and bays. In older urban areas with combined sewer systems, heavy rains can cause treatment systems to get overloaded discharging gallons of untreated sewage along with runoff directly into nearby waters.

Unfortunately, for those of us who care about clean water, healthy rivers, and safe beaches, today there’s bad news for addressing polluted runoff.

On June 10th, the Environmental Protection Agency had committed to propose its updates to our nation’s programs to manage polluted runoff. Across the country, our communities have grown faster than our ability to deal with polluted runoff which has quickly become the number one source of water pollution in the country. These updates are critical to protect public health and safety as well as to promote cost-effective solutions such as green infrastructure.

Today it’s June 11th, and there is still no such proposal to update these programs.

Poorly managed polluted runoff costs money and can threaten public health and safety. Tourism associated with coastal states comprises 85 percent of total tourism revenues across the country. For two beaches in California, illness associated with swimming in water contaminated by polluted runoff at those beaches cost the public over $3 million every year. Every year, up to 3.5 million people get sick from water contaminated by sewage.

Despite this delay, we will continue to work with the Agency to better manage polluted runoff to protect clean water for communities.