Just about every time there’s any significant rainfall on the North Shore, our newsroom gets an advisory against swimming in our local waters — mostly embayments off the Long Island Sound.
As it issues the advisories, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services always explains that stormwater runoff increases bacteria levels in waterways, and because these little nooks and crannies of water along the North Shore do not flush out as quickly as other places, it can be unhealthy to go for a dip.
Stormwater runoff is an environmental issue we talk about a lot, but it seems we are not actually addressing the problem. There’s so much pavement in our residential and commercial developments that rainwater has nowhere to go but toward the sea, and it carries with it all the dirt, chemicals and trash it passes along the way.
The ideal solution is increasing the amount of permeable surface in our neighborhoods so the runoff goes into the ground instead, where it is naturally filtered. We can do that by taking note of the locations we see to be in the most need of improvement and calling on our elected officials to install more catch basins, which absorb and help filter the runoff.
We can also lobby for our municipalities — and even our businesses as well — to use permeable surfaces in parking lots or driveways. These absorbent pavements are not just fantasy; they exist and, though they are more expensive than asphalt, would save us a ton of money on stormwater and environmental maintenance costs in the future. And most importantly, no matter the cost, they would help protect the only home planet we have.
On a personal level, we can help our local bodies of water by planting rain gardens on our properties, as they help absorb stormwater runoff, and by refusing to use harmful chemicals to treat our lawns.
Everyone can do something to ease the burden of bacteria on our waterways. Protecting the environment is a group effort, so we all need to step up to the plate.