Jul 12, 2021

2021 Safe for Swimming Report Suggests Storm Water Solutions to Combat Beach Water Quality Issues

Reducing urban runoff pollution, reducing sewage pollution, and reducing manure pollution were some of the suggestions in the 2021 Safe for Swimming report.


In 2020, Environment North Carolina Research and Policy Center began an annual analysis of bacteria testing. 

Beaches and rivers across the state were tested for E. coli, and the results were compared to recreational water quality standards set by U.S. EPA. 

Based on bacteria levels, researchers in the 2021 Safe for Swimming report found that 87 beaches were considered potentially unsafe for swimming at least one day in 2020. 328 beaches were potentially unsafe on at least 25% of the days that sampling took place in 2020. 

According to Environment NC, swimmers could also be at risk at additional beaches where no bacterial testing was conducted or available. The report also emphasized that fecal contamination makes beaches unsafe for swimming.

“We see this contamination coming from sources like leaking septic systems and properly functioning wastewater treatment plants, stormwater runoff, and industrial animal agriculture operations," said Jill Howell, Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper with Sound Rivers, a nonprofit that monitors river watersheds. 


According to the Safe for Swimming report, there are a few key ways to avoid contamination at beaches, including: reducing urban runoff pollution, reducing sewage pollution, and reducing manure pollution.

In the report, Environmental NC recommends more education and outreach, including the use of the EPA’s most protective “Beach Action Value” bacteria standard. The report also recognizes that pollution threats are getting worse due to heavier flows of storm water related to climate change. 

According to the U.S. EPA’s most recent Water Quality Assessment data, “storm water runoff is responsible for hundreds of miles of shoreline being too polluted for swimming or other intended uses.” .

Water quality at beaches can be found at theswimguide.org.

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