By Benita Best-Wong
America’s coastal waters are a source of life for people and marine life that reside near them. While some of us may think of our coastal waters as a great place to enjoy swimming, fishing, kayaking, boating and other fun water recreation activities, for many communities, they are much more than that. Many people’s livelihoods, whether based on fishing or tourism, depend on clean and safe coastal waters. And, in the case of the Great Lakes, surrounding communities rely on coastal waters to generate precious drinking water.
Most of America’s population lives near a coastline, and that population continues to grow every year. With population growth comes increased land development and pressure on fragile coastal habitats. The National Coastal Condition Assessment (NCCA), a study conducted under the National Aquatic Resource Surveys to better understand the condition of our nation’s waters, tells us that our coastal and Great Lakes nearshore waters have a mix of good and fair health. Even with this news, it’s important that we continue to employ all of the tools available to reduce the pollutants that degrade water quality and further protect areas in good condition.
Every day at EPA, we aim to restore and protect coastal waters through a mix of regulatory and voluntary programs. We work with federal, state and local partners to control point source pollution from industrial and municipal discharges and sewer overflows, restore coastal and estuarine habitats, preserve wetlands, monitor and clean beaches, and manage dredged material to facilitate commerce. Our ocean dumping program prevents pollution caused by discarding wastes near coastal waters. We also set limits on discharges from various vessels and work with communities to prevent trash from entering waterbodies and flowing into the sea. These programs help to keep America’s waters clean.
When we protect the environment, we protect people’s health, too. We also work to make sure people are aware of any risks to their health due to environmental challenges. Our ongoing Beach Watch Program and beach grants helps states improve monitoring and notification systems to alert beach goers about unsafe water quality conditions. The public can also seek our information on fish advisories to find out when certain fish from specific areas should not be eaten or eaten only in limited amounts due to toxins.
Benita Best-Wong is the Director of the Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. OWOW promotes a watershed approach to manage, protect and restore the water resources and aquatic ecosystems of the nation’s marine and fresh waters.