Surfrider's Clean Water Report reveals nearly a quarter of water samples tested across the nation indicated high bacteria levels


Surfrider Foundation Image, Photo: Erik Kabik

San Clemente's Surfrider Foundation today released its annual 2020 Clean Water Report to protect public health and clean water as Americans gear up for the Memorial Day weekend and the start of the summer season. The report features case studies from across the nation and results from Surfrider's Blue Water Task Force, the largest volunteer-run beach water testing program in the country, which indicate that nearly a fourth of water samples tested nationwide measured high levels of bacteria. 

The report confirmed that Americans love the beach, and we didn't forget that over the pandemic. Over 100 million beachgoers flock to U.S. beaches every year to enjoy the sand, sunshine and water. With limited recreation options available during the COVID-19 pandemic, beach attendance actually soared in 2020 and was up as much as 200 - 300% in some states.

The report also highlights Surfrider's Ocean Friendly Gardens program and work to defend clean water at local, state and federal levels.

Sewage spills and infrastructure failures release over 900 billion gallons of untreated sewage into surface waters every year. / Surfrider Foundation

About 10 trillion gallons of untreated stormwater runoff flows into U.S. waterways every year. Communities can find out where it's safe to surf, swim or play in the water by checking the results of Surfrider's 51 Blue Water Task Force labs across the country. Last year, despite challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Surfrider network was able to process 5,796 water samples collected from 501 coastal sampling sites. While the Blue Water Task Force attained fewer samples in 2020, the program expanded by covering more beaches.

Surfrider's Blue Water Task Force test results revealed that 21% of samples indicated high bacteria levels that exceed water quality criteria, or Beach Action Values, set by each state 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, which are influenced by stormwater runoff, or at beaches near these outlets. These results are consistent with national trends, which show that stormwater runoff is the number one cause of beach closures and swimming advisories in the U.S.

The San Juan Creek is one of many constant reminders that what's left on the sidewalks and streams makes its way to the beach.

"Sewage spills and infrastructure failures release over 900 billion gallons of untreated sewage into surface waters every year," said Surfrider's Water Quality Manager, Mara Dias. "As people get ready to head to the beach this summer, it's important for communities to know where it's safe to surf, swim and play. That's why we're working across the nation to test the waters to protect clean water and public health."

The Surfrider network is not only testing the water, but it is also advocating for more federal support to ensure robust water quality monitoring and public notification programs through the federal BEACH Act grants program administered by the Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, Surfrider is calling on Congress to make significant investments to repair, upgrade and ensure climate resiliency for America's failing wastewater infrastructure. As the ocean recreation and tourism sector contributes about $130 billion annually and provides 2.4 million jobs, additional federal support would help to create jobs and provide long lasting benefits to the nation's economy.

Calif County Water Tests Performed by the Blue Water Task Force in 2020 (5,796 total worldwide) - Image by Surfrider Foundation

In addition to the Blue Water Task Force, Surfrider is leading the Ocean Friendly Gardens program across the nation. This program provides easy ways to transform yards and public spaces into gardens that protect water quality and reduce climate change impacts. Last year, Ocean Friendly Gardens were installed in coastal communities by the Surfrider network to reduce urban runoff pollution and defend clean water.

Visit to read Surfrider's Clean Water Report and learn how you can get involved in helping to protect clean water and healthy beaches.

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