The Sciences

Volunteers Protect Clean Water from Coast to Coast

Citizen Science Salon iconCitizen Science SalonBy GuestApr 25, 2018 1:06 AM

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By: Mara Dias and Colleen Henn The Surfrider Foundation is pleased to release its 2017 Clean Water Annual Report, which tracks the progress of our Blue Water Task Force (BWTF) and Ocean Friendly Gardens (OFG) programs during the calendar year of 2017. At a time when it can be difficult to depend on the federal agencies tasked with protecting our clean water and healthy coasts, it is encouraging to see how much a dedicated network of volunteers can accomplish in just one year!

One of the Surfrider Foundation’s core beliefs is that everyone should have access to clean water to surf, swim, and play in. Through its Clean Water Initiative, Surfrider Foundation is taking a multi-tiered approach to protect water quality in local waterways and to reduce ocean pollution. We are testing the water for bacteria and other contaminants, raising awareness, and offering integrated solutions that restore healthy watersheds, protect local water supplies, and keep pollution from reaching the ocean. Our annual report shows the impact Surfrider volunteers and activists are having in communities around the country to protect public health and clean water at the beach. During 2017, the Blue Water Task Force water testing program continued to grow, with overall testing up 18% from the previous year. Forty BWTF labs processed 6,097 water samples collected from 446 distinct sampling sites. And we have already brought 5 new labs onboard in 2018!

The collective results from all the participating BWTF labs have remained relatively constant since we began compiling an annual report in 2011. Of the 6,097 water test results reported in 2017, 70% indicated low bacteria levels, 11% indicated medium bacteria levels, and 19% measured high bacteria levels that exceed the national water quality standard set by the EPA to protect public health in recreational waters. The majority of the water samples that failed to meet health standards were collected from freshwater sources such as rivers, creeks and marshes affected by stormwater runoff or at beaches near these outlets. This is consistent with national trends, which show that stormwater runoff is the number one cause of beach closures and swimming advisories in the United States.

This front yard in Oxnard, California has been transformed from a tired and thirsty turf lawn into a beautiful Ocean Friendly Garden conserving water and providing habitat for pollinators. Surfrider chapters are also digging in and using their Ocean Friendly Gardens program to help solve the water quality problems caused by stormwater and urban runoff in their local communities. By planting native, climate-appropriate plants, building healthy soils, and carefully shaping landscapes to slow down and retain rainwater, Surfrider volunteers are transforming landscapes and hardscapes to reduce pollution and conserve water and wildlife habitat. During 2017, 23 Surfrider chapters ran OFG programs and installed 52 gardens to transform public and residential spaces to become Ocean Friendly. In 2017, chapters from Maui to Oregon’s North Coast to coastal North Carolina achieved great success in advancing policy changes that have resulted in better public health protection at the beach and the protection of local water supplies and coastal watersheds. Importantly, the Rincón, Puerto Rico and St. John, U. S. Virgin Islands chapters helped jumpstart water quality monitoring programs in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Read the Clean Water Report for more details on these campaign victories and to learn how the chapters featured in these and other case studies are implementing their clean water programs to raise awareness about water pollution issues and to advocate for solutions. Anyone can join Surfrider in their efforts to fight for clean water by participating in this action alert and asking Congress to support continued funding for beach water testing programs. A day at the beach shouldn’t cause you or your family to get sick at the beach. Stand up for Clean Water!


Mara Dias is Surfrider Foundation's Water Quality Manager, who leads Surfrider's Clean Water Initiative. Within the Clean Water initiative are the Blue Water Task Force, Surfrider's citizen science water quality monitoring program, and Ocean Friendly Gardens, Surfrider's educational landscaping program that aims to reduce water quality issues caused by urban runoff. Mara is active in securing federal funding for agency-run water testing programs through the EPA BEACH Act while also providing Surfrider Chapters the support to solve pollution problems on a grassroots level.

Colleen Henn is Surfrider Foundation's Clean Water Programs Coordinator. Colleen provides support for the 40+ Blue Water Task Force labs across the US, assisting with the growth of new and existing Blue Water Task Force labs, coordinating logistics and communicating critical water quality data to the public. Colleen also runs her local BWTF lab in Eastern Long Island, doing education programs to engage the next generation of environmental stewards. 

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