They say the first step to recovery is to recognize that we have a problem. We can't make ourselves better if we don't know that something is wrong. And thanks to government spending cuts, we may not know that the water we're surfing in is making us sick.
When the Obama Administration recently released it's 2014 budget, the Environmental Protection Agency's Beach Grant Program didn't make the cut. In case you're wondering, the budget allows $526.6 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Defense. Testing our waters would cost a scant $10 million.
Of course, we want to feel safe. But just to be clear, China is second in the world in military spending, and the US spends about six times what they fork out to keep our shores safe – meanwhile if you wade into the water off that shore, you might be at risk.
"The Natural Resource Defense Council puts together a comprehensive annual report of beach data that is sent into EPA every year. There were 23,481 days of beach closures and advisories issued in 2011.This is too much," explains Mara Dias, The Surfrider Foundation's Water Quality Manager, "The largest contributor to beach water pollution is storm water runoff every year. If we stop testing, we won't be aware of pollution problems and won't be able to fix them."
To give a little history, Surfrider was a big part of passing the BEACH Act in 2000. Back then all of the coastal states and territories prioritized a list of beaches and used the Environmental Protection Agency's national standards for water quality. Then each state applied for grants to test the water and notify the public of the results.
In 2012, President Obama proposed cutting all funding for the Beach Grant for the 2013 fiscal year. A few members of congress made sure it got back into the "Continuing Resolution" for the remainder of the year. But the President has cut it for 2014 and there's no guarantee congress can keep it again. That will be something that the Surfrider Foundation and other grassroots enviro groups will be working toward.
There's no doubt that Obama casts himself as the "green" president. And the republicans generally fault him for money spent on ecological initiatives. But can this administration claim dedication to the environment when it cuts such critical programs?
"(His record is) a mixed bag. At Surfrider we don't support candidates, but rather positions and programs. We are very pleased with the President's recent release of the National Ocean Plan - but obviously, are disappointed with the administration's position to eliminate funding for beach water testing," explains Mara.
Remember that while surfers have become leaders in environmental responsibility – developing more sustainable products, cleaning beaches, and being aware of non-point source pollution, our society has a long way to go. And every time we get slammed during a big winter swell or teach a kid to surf on a little summer day, we are susceptible to whatever toxic mess is running through our storm drains. And that doesn't even begin to address what we are doing to the ocean as a food source or other species in general.
The Administration released this statement about the cuts: "The EPA has worked with state, tribal, and territorial governments for over ten years to develop their capacity to implement beach monitoring programs. Many of these non-federal agencies now have the ability and knowledge to run their own programs without federal support."
Not if the money isn't there.
In these days of cuts, furloughs, and sequesters, nothing is safe -- unless you're building missiles. For or against, Obama may always be remembered for his efforts in healthcare. So then, does it make sense to cut something out that has a direct result on people getting sick?
"There is certainly political pressure to tighten the belt, but cutting this $10 million program is so insignificant in comparison to the scope of the entire federal budget," adds It is also a poor fiscal decision to make this small savings and risk the health of 100 million US beach-goers and the over $80 billion coastal recreation and tourism economies that they support," she adds.
You can easily ask congress to support water testing programs via the Surfrider Foundation.