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2009 Annual Beach Report Card – S.D. Beaches Earn High Water-quality Marks in 2008-09
Summer grades top Heal the Bay report, but testing cutbacks cloud year-round picture
SANTA MONICA, Calif. – Summer beachgoers in San Diego enjoyed near-perfect water quality last year, according to the 19th annual Beach Report Card , which was released today by environmental group Heal the Bay.
Heal the Bay analysts assigned A-to-F letter grades to 93 beaches along the San Diego coast as part of its annual statewide study, based on levels of weekly bacterial pollution. Some 97% of regional sites received A grades for the summer in the report.
The good news for summer beach visitors, however, is tempered by a significant drop in year-round beach monitoring and public health protection because of the state budget crisis. While more than 90 beaches were monitored in San Diego during the summer, the county completely shuttered its entire monitoring program in September after it lost state funds that offset the costs of weekly testing.
After many months without sampling, the Board of Supervisors provided over $100,000 to revive the county’s ocean monitoring program. Nonetheless, only 39 sites were monitored this past winter.
Cutbacks in data collection not only jeopardize public-health safeguards for the many swimmers and surfers who recreate in San Diego’s temperate waters year-round, they also make it impossible for Heal the Bay to conduct meaningful trend analysis of San Diego beaches over time.
“With summer coming, the state has made assurances that it will start restoring funding to beach monitoring programs, but there is no firm date,” said Mark Gold, president of Heal the Bay. “Until then, swimmers in many locations in San Diego are truly swimming at their own risk.”
Restoring permanent state funding for beach monitoring is one of several policy suggestions found in this year’s the Beach Report Card, which aims to protect the well-being of the 100 million people who visit state beaches annually.
The budget crunch also has compromised efforts to tackle chronic pollution at beaches near the Mexican border. A state-funded source-tracking study in the Tijuana Estuary was shut down due to funding restraints last year. In the meanwhile, there were 14 beach closures from Coronado to the Mexican border from April 2008 to April 2009 due to sewage-contaminated plumes from the Tijuana River.
Nonetheless, beachgoers throughout San Diego can generally feel very secure during the summer season. The county has been able to resurrect monitoring at 18 of the most popular beaches in San Diego this summer. If ocean users swim at an open beach at least 100 yards away from a storm drain, creek or pier, it’s extremely unlikely they will contract an illness.
Looking statewide, most California beaches had very good water quality this past year during dry weather, with 276 of 324 (85%) locations receiving very good to excellent (A and B) grades.
Overall, only 32 of the beaches (6%) monitored statewide received D or F grades last summer. High bacteria counts at these sites are linked to such potential illnesses as stomach flu, ear infections and major skin rashes.
The disparity between dry and wet weather grades continues to be substantial. Nearly 55% percent of monitoring locations received fair to poor grades during the wet weather season, with 35% earning F grades. Wet weather grades were notably worse from the same time period a year ago.
This growing gap between improving dry grades and lagging wet grades indicates that cities and counties have made strides to mitigate dry weather pollution but are still grappling with stormwater runoff and the harmful effects it has on coastal water quality.
The marked seasonal difference in water quality is why Heal the Bay and public health agencies continue to recommend that no one swim in the ocean during, and for at least three days after, a significant rainstorm.
For the fourth straight year, Los Angeles County had the worst overall beach water quality in the state, including six of the 10 lowest-rated beaches in the survey. A handful of polluted beaches in Malibu, Santa Monica, Avalon and Long Beach dragged down the county’s overall year-round A-or-B grade average to a state-low 70%.
Moving up the coast, more than 90% of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo beaches earned A or B grades during year-round dry weather. Santa Cruz saw 83% of its beaches record A grades year-round. Further north, San Mateo notched perfect 100% A grades at its 11 sites, while San Francisco earned 93%. Bay beaches in Alameda and Contra Costa counties slipped somewhat this year, with 10% of their sites earning poor marks.
Marin, Mendocino and Humboldt counties earned perfect 100% summer grades, while Sonoma recorded A or B grades for more than 85% of its beaches.
The Top 10 Beach Bummers
Twenty-two beaches statewide received an overall “F” grade in year-round dry weather during the 2008-2009 Beach Report Card. The ten worst “Beach Bummers” in California (starting with the worst) are:
- Avalon Harbor Beach on Catalina Island (Los Angeles County)
- Cabrillo Beach harborside (Los Angeles County)
- Pismo Beach Pier (San Luis Obispo County)
- Colorado Lagoon (Los Angeles County)
- Santa Monica Municipal Pier (Los Angeles County)
- City of Long Beach at LA River outlet (Los Angeles County)
- Poche Beach (Orange County)
- Surfrider Beach at Malibu Creek (Los Angeles County)
- Campbell Cove State Park Beach (Sonoma County)
- Doheny Beach at San Juan Creek (Orange County)
Some 79 of the 324 (24%) beaches with year-round dry weather grades this year scored a perfect A+. These beaches had zero exceedances of state bacterial standards for ocean water quality throughout the entire time frame of this report. Heal the Bay proudly places these beaches on our inaugural Beach Report Card Honor Roll. A list of these locations can be found in the full report.
For a detailed look at beach results for each county and report methodology, please refer to our complete report. A PDF version is available at www.healthebay.org.
About the Beach Report Card
All county health departments are required to test beach water quality samples for three types of indicator bacteria at least once a week. Heal the Bay compiles the complex shoreline data, analyzes it and assigns an easy-to-understand letter grade. We analyzed 502 beaches along the California coast from San Diego to Humboldt counties, based on levels of weekly bacterial pollution reported from April 2008 through March 2009.
The summary includes an analysis of water quality during three time periods: summer dry season (April through October), year-round dry weather, and year-round wet weather conditions. The grading methodology utilized in the 2008-09 Beach Report Card is endorsed by the State Water Resources Control Board.
An FAQ about the Beach Report Card and water quality is available www.healthebay.org/brc/FAQs.
Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card is made possible through the generous support of Ford Motor Company. Ford has supported Heal the Bay since 1995. The Goldhirsh Foundation, simplehuman and the James Irvine Foundation also provide generous support.
Accessing the Beach Report Card
Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card interactive microsite contains weekly updates as well as historical grades by county. www.healthebay.org/brc
In an effort to make water quality information easily accessible from any location at anytime, Heal the Bay and technology partner GoLive! Mobile offer a service that provides Beach Report Card grades via text messaging. Users can visit Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card website (www.healthebay.org/brc/sms) to find the keyword name assigned to their beach.
About Heal the Bay
Now in its 24th year, Heal the Bay is dedicated to making Santa Monica Bay and Southern California watersheds and coastal waters safe and healthy for people and marine life. It is one of the largest nonprofit environmental organizations in Los Angeles County, with more than 12,000 members. The organization focuses on education, outreach, research and advocacy through programs like Coastal Cleanup Day each September and the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.
Contacts: Mike Grimmer, Heal the Bay, (310) 451-1500, x111
Hallie Jones, Heal the Bay, (949) 280-2048
Partners: Several statewide coastal environmental groups have consulted with Heal the Bay about regional water quality issues. The following leaders are available to provide further local perspective.
San Diego: Ben McCue, WiLDCOAST, (619) 423-8665 ext. 208
Bruce Reznik, San Diego CoastKeeper (619) 758-7743, ext. 102