Clean Water

Everyone should have access to clean water to surf, swim and play in. The Surfrider Foundation is taking a multi-tiered approach to tackle ocean pollution problems. We are testing the waters for bacteria and toxins, raising public awareness and finding real solutions to ocean pollution; solutions that restore healthy watersheds, protect local water supplies and keep pollution from reaching the ocean.
Intro Resources Contact

Improving coastal water quality has been one of the Surfrider Foundation’s top priorities over the last 30 years. Our Clean Water Initiative strives to protect our water resources and prevent pollution from reaching the ocean.

Ocean pollution is a serious problem. What is in our ocean water affects both the health of beachgoers and the sea creatures we love. For example, over 20,000 swim advisories and beach closures are issued every year to protect the health of beachgoers across the U.S. It’s unacceptable that a day at the beach could result in stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, respiratory infections or worse. 

Through Surfrider’s clean water programs, Blue Water Task Force (BWTF) and Ocean Friendly Gardens (OFG), we keep hundreds of millions of gallons of polluted water from entering our ocean and waterways daily. Our programs educate the public on better ways to landscape your yard to reduce the pollution entering the ocean.  

Blue Water Task Force

The Blue Water Task Force is our volunteer-run, water testing, education and advocacy program which provides valuable water quality information to beach communities, identifies problems with beach and coastal water pollution, and works in your local community to raise awareness of pollution problems and implement solutions. Over the past 20 years, the Blue Water Task Force has grown into a network of over 30 labs that are providing you with the information you need to know if a day at the beach will make you sick. Visit the Blue Water Task Force page

Ocean Friendly Gardens

Our volunteers help local communities create Ocean Friendly Gardens, that conserve water and wildlife habitat with native plants, restore soil to sponge up rainwater and filter out pollution and ultimately reduce the amount of polluted runoff reaching the ocean. They also help us educate landscape professionals and advocate for change to government policy. By planting Ocean Friendly Gardens across the country—and more every day—the Surfrider Foundation has prevented over 13 million gallons of urban runoff from polluting our coastal waters and the ocean. Visit the Ocean Friendly Gardens page

What is the problem?

The urbanization of our coasts has altered and polluted the natural water cycle. In undeveloped, natural areas, rainfall is absorbed by soil and plants, percolates through the soil to underground aquifers or flows into local streams. Rooftops, pavement and other impervious surfaces in urban and residential areas prevent rain from soaking into the ground and instead direct polluted runoff straight towards the ocean. At the same time, we are wasting valuable freshwater by using it once, mixing it with our waste, and then discharging it, partially treated, into the ocean. This is threatening the long-term security of our water supply and polluting our coastal waters.  Learn more by watching the Cycle of Insanity film.

What are the solutions?

Our efforts to protect local water supplies, manage waste and prevent pollution are all connected.   Surfrider advocates for practical and environmentally sound solutions that can restore the water cycle and natural functions of coastal ecosystems to protect local water supplies and prevent pollution from reaching the ocean.  This holistic, watershed-based approach also helps support resilient and healthy coastal communities and economies.

A watershed is a geographic area in which all sources of water, including rainfall, snow melt, streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands, and ground water, all drain to a common surface water body, generally the ocean in coastal areas.   

Ecosystem Services Provided by Healthy, Naturally Functioning Watersheds

  • Hold rain and absorb water into the ground for flood control
  • Soil & plants filter out pollutants from water
  • Water percolates through the soil to re-charge ground water and maintain stream flows
  • Transport of sand to the beach by natural rivers & streams
  • Provide wildlife habitat
  • Carbon sequestration by plants & soil

Properly functioning land-based (terrestrial) and aquatic ecosystems in healthy watersheds can sponge up and clean rain water and urban runoff, reducing the impacts of flooding and allowing the water to soak into the ground for our use later. Surfrider also advocates for water conservation measures, grey-water reuse, and wastewater recycling to minimize ocean discharges from sewage treatment plants and to protect local freshwater supplies. The new Clean Water Initiative brochure shows how these solutions can be applied across a coastal watershed.

To be most effective, government agencies need to work together, and with NGOs and the private sector, to support an integrated watershed approach that helps make every property a part of the solution to pollution.

There are many different ways that Surfrider chapters, activists or any concerned citizen can get involved and help protect clean water in your community.  From collecting a water sample at the beach, to making our yards more Ocean Friendly, or pitching in on campaigns to improve large-scale water management projects, we all have a responsibility to stop wasting water and to keep pollution from reaching the ocean.

Read more about the Clean Water Initiative in action.  This case study of the Ventura County Chapter, describes their multi-pronged efforts to promote clean water and restore ecosystem function throughout the Ventura River watershed in California.

Clean Water Contacts

Blue Water Task Force, clean water campaigns & Ocean Illness Form:  Mara Dias   mdias@surfrider.org

Ocean Friendly Gardens & green streets:  Paul Herzog pherzog@surfrider.org

Beachapedia, sewage treatment, wastewater recycling & desalination projects:  Rick Wilson  rwilson@surfrider.org

Clean Water Tips.  Easy ways we can all stop polluting and wasting water. Blog post & PDF

Clean Water Initiative.  Hand-out         CW 2015 Annual Report

Clean Water Initiative Brochure: print-ready version

Chapter's User Guide to the Clean Water Initiative.

Beachapedia.org : Surfrider's on-line coastal knowlege resource.  Topics relevant to water pollution and clean water solutions available here.

The Cycle of Insanity.  Watch this film to learn more about how we have polluted the natural water cycle and how we can take a  holistic approach to restore coastal watersheds, protect local water supplies and keep pollution from reaching the ocean.  Available as full 20-min film2-minute trailer & film script.

Ocean Illness Reporting Tool. You can track incidents of skin infections, gastro-intestinal symptoms and other ocean illnesses at your local beaches with this on-line, sickness reporting tool.   https://sickatthebeach.crowdmap.com

Sources of Beach & Ocean Pollution

Surfrider's Coastal Blog.  Clean Water Topics: Water Quality, including Blue Water Task Force, Ocean Friendly Gardens and Know Your H2O

Chapter Activities to engage in the Clean Water Initiative and better Know Your H2O

Mara Dias, Water Quality Manager, mdias@surfrider.org
Clean Water Updates