Blue Water Task Force, Partnerships, Water Quality
June 21 2019

Citizen Science Protects Public Health at the Beach in WA

by Mara DiasBrice Boland

Surfrider’s Blue Water Task Force (BWTF) volunteers commit so much of their personal time to collecting water samples because they love the beach and they want to know that recreating in the water will not put their health or their family’s health at risk. Most chapter BWTF programs set up their sampling schedules to complement and extend the coverage of agency-run beach water testing programs to provide more water quality information at more beaches.  Chapters often test during the cooler, off-season months, or they collect samples from beaches that are not covered by the agencies and in freshwater sources such as streams and stormwater discharges that flow across the beach and empty into the ocean.

The Surfrider chapters in Washington State enjoy a closer collaborative relationship with their state and county beach programs than most. In Washington, the State Department of Ecology works closely with both local health agencies and citizen groups to provide more health coverage at the beach than they could by themselves. 

Julianne Ruffner, manager of Ecology’s Beach Environmental Assessment, Communication, and Health program explains on their website, "Involving citizen science volunteers is vital to our monitoring program, especially in smaller communities. Ecology's citizen science volunteers collect data and potentially identify pollution issues in areas that may otherwise go unassessed."

Watch this great short video featuring Liz Schotman from the Olympia Surfrider Chapter that explains this collaboration. She also speaks to why water testing programs are important to her personally, “I’m a big free diver, and so to me being able to go under the water safely and not have to worry about getting from it is super important.

Surfrider volunteers from the Olympic Peninsula and Olympia Chapters participate directly in their state and county-run beach programs. As described in the above film, the agencies provide the volunteers with the equipment and training needed to collect samples, and the volunteers agree to collect samples from beaches that are important to the community for recreation, but that the agencies wouldn’t otherwise have the resources to monitor on a regular basis. The volunteers sample their assigned beaches on a weekly basis throughout the summer season - Memorial Day to Labor Day - and bring those samples to the state lab for processing.

Additionally the long-established BWTF programs run by the Northwest Straits Chapter in Bellingham and the South Sound Chapter in Tacoma share their results with their county health departments to prioritize sampling locations, improve public notification, and to inform collaborative source tracking studies,

Volunteers from Olympia meet Ecology Staff in the field to review sampling protocols for the Washington Beach Program

Visit the Washington state Coastal Atlas to view advisories and closures before you hit the beach in Washington. Historical data for each monitored site is also available from this site. To find out where Surfrider is testing and to view our results visit the BWTF website

For more information on the programs and campaigns run by Surfrider in Washington, or to connect with any of our chapters to volunteer please visit Washington.surfrider.org.