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Summer Beach Water Quality on Rise Statewide

But beach monitoring criteria may be weakened, putting swimmers at risk

| posted on October 11, 2012

SANTA MONICA, CA (Sept. 25, 2012) – Southern California environmental group Heal the Bay today released its 2012 End of Summer Beach Report Card®, heralding one of the cleanest summers for beach water quality ever recorded in the state. The Report marks the sixth year in a row that California beachgoers enjoyed excellent beach water quality during the period from Memorial Day through Labor Day, with 96% of sampled sites receiving A or B grades, a 4% improvement from last year.

Heal the Bay assigned an A-to-F letter grade to 446 beaches along the California coast, based on bacterial pollution data collected by 20 local health agencies and dischargers from Humboldt through San Diego counties. The better the grade a location received, the lower the risk of illness to beach users.

While beachgoers in 2012 can rejoice in this summer’s high grades, two recent proposals from the United States Environmental Protection (USEPA) may have a devastating effect on beach water quality programs in 2013. The USEPA is proposing new acceptable bacteria levels in recreational waters that are in some respects less protective than the 25-year old criteria they would replace and would expose ocean swimmers to unacceptable health risks that cause diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

In addition, proposed USEPA budget cuts for 2013 eliminate all BEACH Act grant funding, jeopardizing beach water quality monitoring programs throughout the U.S. The cuts would threaten county beach programs throughout California, especially in northern counties, which depend primarily on federal funding for beach monitoring. These programs allow state, local health and environmental protection agencies to routinely monitor and track water quality at the nation’s beaches, as well as alert the public when bacteria levels in the water are unsafe by posting beach warnings or closing the beach.

Heal the Bay has long advocated for strong water quality standards as well as for consistent, effective monitoring and timely alerts to the public when the water is unsafe for swimmers. Heal the Bay urges concerned citizens to send a letter directly to the EPA asking that officials reconsider proposed recreational water quality criteria and to restore the BEACH Act Grant Program, via www.healthebay.org/get-involved/take-action.

Happily, there were fewer beach locations that posed health risks this year in California, with 20 receiving fair-to-poor water quality grades (9 Cs and 11 Fs). For the most part, counties either showed marked improvement or held steady.

Los Angeles County beach water quality continued to improve, this year by 2%, with 77 sites earning A and B grades. However, Avalon Beach on Catalina Island remains problematic. Avalon consistently appears on Heal the Bay’s infamous annual “Beach Bummers” list of the 10 most polluted beaches throughout California. This is the eighth summer in a row that none of the five monitoring locations have received A or B grades. Although Avalon has experienced chronically polluted water for more than two decades, recent Clean Beach Initiative (CBI) funding has subsidized the recent upgrade of Avalon’s corroded sewer infrastructure. The upgrades were completed this summer to help meet new water quality regulations mandated by the Regional Board. Additional water quality improvement projects are currently being implemented. We look forward to seeing a boost in water quality grades as these projects progress.

Two additional Los Angeles County sites received poor water quality grades: the Malibu Pier (50 yards east) and inner Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro. This is the third consecutive summer that the Malibu Pier has suffered poor water quality, earning an F grade in this report. Heal the Bay will continue to work with Los Angeles County Environmental Health to further investigate and mitigate potential bacteria sources at both locations.

Overall, Santa Monica Bay beaches continued to improve, demonstrating better water quality than last summer, with 65 (94%) of 69 monitoring locations receiving A or B grades (compared to 89% last year). This is the third year in row that the chronically polluted Santa Monica Pier earned a much improved A grade. Long Beach grades, while still good, slipped from last summer with 85% A or B grades (100% A or B grades last summer). However, this is still a drastic improvement from Long Beach’s extensive history of chronic beach pollution.

Orange County once again aced its beach water quality grades, with 93% of OC beaches receiving an A grade, a slightly lower score than last year. Poche Beach still persists with poor water quality, receiving an F grade this summer; while the historically poor water quality at Doheny Beach (North Beach) continues to show improvement, receiving an A grade for the second consecutive summer. Joining Orange County on the A List, Ventura County scored 100% A’s over the summer. Overall water quality at beaches throughout Ventura County remains among the best in the state.

Despite enduring sewage spills that closed beaches near the Mexico border just before Labor Day, overall water quality at beaches in San Diego County was excellent and very similar to last summer, with all locations receiving an A grade. To further improve water quality, city of San Diego officials announced a four-week bacteria source tracking study at the formerly notorious Mission Bay to be completed before the beginning of the wet season. While water quality in Mission Bay has markedly improved the last two years during dry weather, water quality still poses a public health risk up to 72 hours after a rainfall and following sewage spills reaching receiving waters.

Moving up to the Central Coast, beaches in Santa Barbara County received 100% A grades, a 13% improvement over last year. San Luis Obispo County also scored 100% A grades.

Heading north, Monterey County performed well, with 100% of locations receiving either As or Bs, while water quality in Santa Cruz County scored very similar grades to last summer, with 77% of beaches receiving A grades. However, the chronically poor water quality at Cowell Beach – where a beach swimming advisory has been posted since June 5– continues to persist, with two out of three monitoring locations at Cowell receiving the worst grades in the county (F grades). County officials tracking the problem over the past four summers attribute quantities of decaying kelp on the beach as a major source of high bacteria in the area. Urban runoff may also be a potential contributing source.

San Mateo County showed vast improvement, with 91% of monitoring locations earning A or B grades, a 9% uptick from last year. Water quality in Contra Costa and Humboldt counties also advanced to mostly A grades, while Alameda, Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino sustained their excellent beach water quality grades.

Beach goers in San Francisco County can also celebrate excellent water quality grades, as all 14 locations received As or Bs this summer. This is the second consecutive summer that Baker Beach at Lobos Creek, known for having historically poor water quality, has shown improvement, earning a B grade.

About the Beach Report Card
Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card is made possible by the generous support of the Diller-vonFurstenberg Family Foundation, simplehuman®, LAcarGuy, Surf Industry Manufacturers Association (SIMA), and the Grousbeck Family Foundation.

For a PDF version of this year’s detailed report card please visit http://beachreportcard.org/

Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card is in its 22nd year and encompasses more than 700 beaches along the West Coast. Beachgoers can view Heal the Bay’s Beach Report from any computer, or download a free Beach Report Card mobile app for their iPhone or Android, at www.beachreportcard.org

Grades are updated weekly in a searchable online database, which Heal the Bay offers as a free public service. Beachgoers can find out which beaches are safe and unsafe, check recent water quality history and look up details on beach closures.

About Heal the Bay
Heal the Bay is a nonprofit environmental organization making Southern California coastal waters and watersheds, including Santa Monica Bay, safe, healthy and clean. We use science, education, community action and advocacy to pursue our mission.

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