Not only does every coastal state suffer from polluted and contaminated beaches, but those problems resulted in more than 20,000 closing and swimming advisory days in 2008 alone. Such is the sorry state of affairs noted in NRDC's latest Testing the Waters report. Unlucky beachgoers can suffer infections, rashes, stomach flu, hepatitis and worse. But because stormwater runoff is one of the major causes of beach pollution, we can help prevent the fouling of our beaches at home. Below are a few ways to help reduce runoff and otherwise improve the quality of our beaches and oceans.

Wash your car on grass, and use little or no water
Some western states and cities already require that car owners wash their cars on grass, gravel or other permeable surface to prevent the runoff of oil, grease and metals into storm drains. By switching to one of the several waterless car wash products, you’ll do even more to prevent water waste and keep pollutants out of the environment. If you find they don’t clean your car as thoroughly as you’d like, visit a commercial car wash, all of which are required by the Clean Water Act to send wastewater to treatment plants.

Start a rain garden
To help prevent street flooding, cities such as Burnsville, Minnesota, are encouraging residents to plant rain gardens, often consisting of hardy, native species planted in depressions that collect rainwater as it runs off a driveway, rooftop or other area. By modifying the curbside, rain gardens can also help divert rainwater from streets. For help planting your own, see Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources.

Install permeable pavement
Replace your driveway and walkways with permeable paving or gravel that allows water to soak into the ground. Options include permeable asphalt, concrete, pavers and bricks. Pair this measure with other runoff-reduction strategies mentioned here for the greatest impact. The Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department at North Carolina State University provides descriptions of types of paving and research on their effectiveness.
Add rain barrels (and gutters)
If your house doesn’t have roof gutters, rainwater streaming off roof tiles will only compound runoff from your driveway, patio and other surfaces, so make the upgrade. Adding rain barrels to the downspouts from your gutters eliminates rooftop runoff and provides a supply of nonpotable water for irrigation. Barrels made from recycled food-grade containers are widely sold and help reduce plastic waste. Barrels are available at Clean Air Gardening and Aaron’s Rain Barrels, among other sources.

Try on a green roof for size
If you’re up for a larger task (and want to wow your neighbors), you can install a green roof to that will absorb rainwater; attract birds, butterflies and beneficial insects; and help increase your home insulation. Homeowners may even be eligible for utility rebates and state- or city-government incentives. What's more, a green roof may double your roof's life span by shielding it from sunlight, wind and extreme temperatures. However, depending on what you install, your roof will need to be able to support at least 30 pounds per square foot and have a slope of no less than 1 percent and no more than 7 percent.

For ratings of the 200 most popular U.S. beaches, see the interactive map at Testing the Waters.


That is awesome. Grass for a roof! I love it! I wonder if it's not too much weight, so cool! Do they walk on their roof with a lawn mower? Wild.
Rain water mixed with urban pollutants often creates storm water pollution. Urban runoff pollution may also flow to the ocean through the storm drain system. Pollutants included pet wastes, pesticides and litter, just to name a few. Everyone should take care to avoid these...

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