The following first appeared as a Letter to the Editor in the Daily Press earlier this week.
The lower Chesapeake Bay has indeed been fortunate in dodging oxygen-starved dead zones this summer. However, Hampton Roads has seen its share of dirty, unsafe water in recent months.
Just last week, the Virginia Department of Health condemned oyster beds in parts of the James River off Newport News, banning all shellfish harvests there for the rest of September because the water "has been subjected to sewage spills likely containing pathogenic bacteria and viruses, and because the area is not a safe area from which to take shellfish for direct marketing."
Earlier this summer, health officials closed beaches along Ocean View in Norfolk, James River beaches in Newport News, Yorktown Beach, Gloucester Point Beach and the Virginia Beach oceanfront because of high bacteria levels in the water. As of last month, authorities had issued 31 swimming advisories for 16 different beaches, nearly all of them in Hampton Roads, spanning 74 days.
While unsafe beaches can be caused by natural factors such as bird droppings, more often it is the result of pollution running off streets, parking lots and lawns. Even a gentle rain washes pet waste, sewage, litter, grease, oil, fertilizer and other toxic substances off the land and into storm drains leading to nearby waterways. This pollution not only threatens public health, it hurts our local water-based businesses and industries.
Most importantly, runoff pollution is preventable. All of us can do our part to reduce runoff from our homes, yards, schools, businesses, and neighborhoods.
To learn more, go to cbf.org/runoff. Safe beaches are ours for the choosing. Choose clean water.
--Christy Everett, CBF Hampton Roads Director