AUSTIN—The drought that has crippled Texas lakes and rivers had the side-effect of improving beachwater quality in the state due to decreased levels of polluted runoff caused by the lack of rain, according to a report released Wednesday. The 22nd annual beachwater quality report conducted by the Natural Resource Defense Council found that the total health advisory days for 2011 decreased by 45 percent from 2010 figures, dropping from 704 days to 385.
“Our beaches are a pride of Texas and places that people across the region come to visit during the summer,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “There were fewer health advisories last year due to the lack of rain, but unless we do more keep our beaches clean, that number is likely going jump back up again.”
South Padre Island, according to the NRDC beach rating system, was one of the cleanest in the country—it was one of 12 across the nation to receive the highest rating of five stars.
However, beaches in Nueces County continued to have high instances of exceeding the state’s daily maximum bacterial standard. Four beaches in the county, Poenisch Park, Cole Park, Ropes Park, and JFK Causeway-SW, were among the beaches with the highest exceedance rates in the state. Beaches in Matagorda, Kleberg, Harris, and Aransas counties also had high exceedance rates, all over eight percent.
The cleaner beaches of 2011 may be an anomaly if we do not take action to improve beachwater quality standards. Last year was the driest year on record for Texas, with the average rainfall for the state at nearly half of historical levels. If rainfall returns to past levels, more pollution will be washed into coastal waters, increasing beachwater pollution that threatens human health and local economies.
Beachwater pollution causes a range of waterborne illnesses in swimmers including stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, ear, nose and throat problems, dysentery, hepatitis, respiratory ailments, neurological disorders and other serious health problems. For senior citizens, small children and people with weak immune systems, the results can be fatal.
The best way to protect swimmers from beachwater pollution is to prevent it, according to Environment Texas. A key solution is investing in smarter, greener infrastructure on land – like porous pavement, green roofs, parks, roadside plantings and rain barrels – that makes a real difference in the water.
Green infrastructure stops rain where it falls, storing it or letting it filter back into the ground naturally. This keeps it from running off dirty streets and carrying pollution to the beach. And it keeps it from overloading sewage systems and triggering overflows.
Cities nationwide are already starting to embrace these practices at the local level. Now, our federal government has significant opportunities to increase its prevalence on the national level.
“The EPA has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to expand the use of green infrastructure in communities nationwide. Right now they are in the process of updating their national rules for tackling runoff pollution,” said Metzger. “We urge the EPA to protect Texas’s beaches by creating strong stormwater regulations to reduce runoff from new and existing developments, and apply runoff standards to all communities.”
Environment Texas is a statewide, non-profit, citizen-funded advocate for clean air, clean water and open spaces.