The Beach Boys hired Jack Rieley as their manager in 1970. In order to make the band more relevant, Rieley suggested that the band write songs that were more political. "Don't Go Near the Water" is the first example of this. The song puts an ironic, ecological spin on the traditional Beach Boys beach- and surf- based songs: instead of enjoying surfing and other fun activities, this time the listener is advised to avoid the water for environmental reasons.
The song was recorded at the same session as "Long Promised Road" and "4th of July", both also recorded for the Surf's Up album. The lead vocals are by the song's composers, Love and Jardine. Brian Wilson contributed the dissonant piano part, according to Peter Ames Carlin's book Catch a Wave (Rodale, 2006), page 159.
The song was chosen to be the B-side of the "Surf's Up" single, released on November 8, 1971. It did not chart. The song was also released as a single in several European countries, such as Britain and Germany. It was later released on November 2, 1981 as the B-side of the "Come Go with Me" single. The single charted at #18 in the US but never charted in the UK.