In California, our water defines us. Over 25 million people live near California’s coast, while millions more live near streams, creeks, and lakes. The state’s main economic sectors – coastal tourism, agriculture, wine and beer making, manufacturing, and recreation – all depend on clean water. California’s coastal areas, beaches, estuaries, rivers, streams and bays enhance the quality of life and well-being for all Californians by providing a place to play.
Recognizing the deep connection between Californians and their rivers, beaches, and lakes, the California Legislature declared July 25th as California Swimmable Day in 2013, officially recognizing the right for all Californians to enjoy beaches, rivers, streams, and lakes that are clean and safe for swimming, surfing, and fishing.
Unfortunately, over half of California’s lakes, bays, wetlands, and estuaries are too polluted to swim, drink, or fish. And it’s no secret the impact stormwater – the water that runs off our streets and paved surfaces each time it rains – has on our waterways. This rain water picks up pollutants – such as toxic metals, bacteria, pesticides, and fertilizer – from our cities and neighborhoods, and transports these pollutants into our rivers, lakes, and streams.
California Waterkeepers have long worked to combat ongoing sources of pollution to protect swimmable, fishable, drinkable water for California communities and ecosystems. We worked with the State Water Board this past November to finally require industrial stormwater facilities to take action to meet water quality standards that were set over a decade ago. The statewide Industrial Stormwater Permit now sets clear numeric targets to limit the metals, bacteria, and other harmful pollutants that run off industrial facilities and into our water – the first Industrial Stormwater Permit in the nation to do so.
The State Water Board still has a number of critical actions it needs to take to protect all Californians’ right to enjoy clean and safe water for swimming, kayaking, fishing, and surfing. These key actions include:
Reducing Water Quality Impacts from Construction.
Construction sites are generally prohibited from allowing debris and other construction material from entering California waterways. The disturbance of soil and related erosion from construction, however, continues to impair our waterways with excess sediment, making it difficult for Californians to enjoy our rivers and streams. The State Water Board needs to adopt a new Construction Stormwater Permit that includes strict sediment controls for waterways already impaired for sediment to prevent the continued degradation of our precious rivers and streams.
Adopting New Toxicity Testing Measures to Improve the Waters We Fish.
The combined impacts of toxic pollution threaten California waters and the aquatic wildlife, such as salmon and other fish, that depend on clean water. Fifteen years have passed since the State Water Board first initiated an update to its Toxicity Provisions, leaving California without a revised Policy to better measure and prevent toxic pollution. In that time, the number of California waterbodies impaired for toxicity has increased from 255 to 326. The State Water Board must act now to adopt new Toxicity Provisions that include updated testing methods – such as the Test of Significant Toxicity method – to ensure water quality testing is precise and to prevent toxicity in the waters we fish.
Preventing Sewage from Reaching Our Waters.
California waterways and communities are plagued with millions of gallons of raw, untreated sewage that are dumped into California waterways each year, caused by failures in our sewer systems. This untreated sewage introduces dangerous levels of bacteria into our waters and can make anyone who comes in contact with this water sick with ear infections, upper respiratory infections, skin rashes, or the stomach flu. The State Water Board has an important opportunity to better manage and regulate our sewer systems under an NPDES permit to increase protections for our health and communities.
California’s iconic rivers, beaches, and lakes are a true treasure. The California Coastkeeper Alliance and the California Waterkeepers remain committed to ensuring our waters are swimmable, drinkable, and fishable not only this Swimmable California Day – but every day.
Policy Analyst Kaitlyn Kalua represents CCKA and its member Waterkeepers in state regulatory and legislative forums to advance statewide water policy.