Around the Water Cooler: Surf’s Up?

By Maggie Sauerhage

When it comes to reading waves, surfers are the experts. But many surfers in Los Angeles won’t even put a foot in the water on rainy days for fear of getting sick from the pollution that flows into the ocean.

Communities in southern California have been looking for ways to stop polluted stormwater from reaching their coasts. Los Angeles is looking at tapping green infrastructure practices as a solution. They hope such practices will not only prevent tainted runoff from reaching popular surfing sites, but provide a new source of water clean enough to drink.

Such an innovative approach shows the growing concern about drinking water across the country. That’s why EPA researchers are studying a variety of approaches—including green infrastructure—to determine cost-effective and sustainable solutions.

Green infrastructure refers to sustainable practices, such as porous paving materials, rain gardens, and cisterns, that reduce pollution by either retaining stormwater–which keeps it out of sewers and prevents overflow—or redirects water into the ground where it can be filtered by plants and soil.

In Omaha, EPA scientists are working with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and city officials to reduce combined sewer overflows (CSOs), which threaten human and environmental health through water contamination. The scientists are identifying sites where green infrastructure installations such as rain gardens, rain barrels, and cisterns will have the greatest impact in reducing stormwater runoff and preventing sewers from overflowing.

EPA researchers are also developing a tool the will soon be publically available for use by individuals, developers, landscapers, and city planners to help manage stormwater runoff on their properties. The EPA’s desktop Stormwater Calculator application will provide information on how various green infrastructure practices can reduce runoff based on local soil conditions, average yearly rainfall, and the surrounding environment. Users simply need to enter their zip code to compare different green infrastructure scenarios and see how they change the runoff volume from their location.

The variety of innovative green infrastructure research aimed at cleaning up our water and creating more drinking water resources makes me hopeful that communities will be able to respond to their unique challenges with smart and sustainable solutions. They will also help keep our beaches clean, so that even when it rains: Surf’s up!

About the Author: Maggie Sauerhage is a student services contractor working on the Science Communications Team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.