With the summer season still in full swing, many people are headed to the coast to cool off in the water.
Before you dive in, stop and think: Just how clean is that water? Experts tell the Coastal Federation’s Stacia Strong that there are many things that can impact water quality, and that often people don’t even realize how much they affect it.
“Everything from commercial to recreational fishing, to oyster growers, to the tourism industry, all of it is really dependent on clean water,” says Lauren Kolodij, North Carolina Coastal Federation Assistant Director.
However, many people may not fully understand how their actions at their homes, on the roads, and out on the water all affect water’s quality.
“Water quality for people has lots of different ways it manifests itself so you have water quality in that it’s clean enough to drink and you also have water quality in the sense of clean enough for ecosystems to function as they need to and all of those things directly benefit people,” says Dr. Mike Piehler a professor at UNC’s Institute of Marine Sciences.
He’s spent years researching and studying water quality.
“Your water quality isn’t generally a problem until it’s a bigger problem and so people don’t people don’t have a sense of the cumulative impacts that smaller changes that they could make to enhance and sustain water quality,” he says.
Water quality doesn’t just become degraded from heavy boat traffic, or even littering while out on the water. It actually starts further away from the coast.
“I think you’d be surprised because it can be something as small as somebody not picking up after their pet on the street or sidewalk to discharging major pollutants like sewage or something, now that doesn’t happen very often, but then it’s really everything we do, it could be activities in a marina, it could be activities out on a boat,” says Piehler.
Experts say it doesn’t have to be all bad news — since all of these impacts are things we can control, including one of the biggest culprits responsible for affecting water quality: Storm water runoff.
“When the rain hits hard surfaces like a parking lot or a ditched and drained farm field so really it’s taking all of that activity we do on land again like pet waste and flushing it into the water,” he says.
Constructing rain gardens, building permeable surfaces and other measures can all slow this runoff. Closer to the water, actions like encouraging marinas to take part in the clean marina program can help.
“There has been great success around the clean marina program and having a marina function in a green way is beneficial for sure, but more important still is the education piece of having all of the boaters that go to this marina think of things that they may just not be aware of, that people just don’t know that can be problematic for water quality,” says Piehler.
For more information on how to reduce your own runoff, take a look at NCCoast.org.