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Mixed Grades for Bay Area Beach Water Quality
92% of beaches get A or B grades in annual report card; but wet weather grades dip sharply
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (Thursday, May 22, 2014) – Bay Area ocean beaches continue to provide outstanding water quality for summer beachgoers, according to the 24th annual Beach Report Card® , which was released today by the environmental group Heal the Bay.
From Marin to San Mateo, 42 out of 44 ocean-side beaches (95%) received an A summer grade in the report, which analyzed weekly bacterial pollution levels at beaches statewide for three distinct time periods in 2013-14. The 95% figure is consistent with the five-year average for ocean-side grades during the high-traffic summer periods (April to October).
Bayside beaches had lower grades overall. Some 22 out of 28 bayside beaches (79%) received an A or B grades for the summer time period. Swimmers faced worrying pockets of pollution in San Mateo and San Francisco counties. Two beaches in San Mateo received failing grades for summer: Marina Lagoon (Aquatic Park/ Lakeshore Park) and Pillar Point Harbor.
Heal the Bay analysts assigned A-to-F grades to beaches in San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa and Marin counties as part of its annual statewide report. Some 92% of Bay Area sites received A or B grades for the summer in the report. Those marks represent a 3% downturn from Bay Area beaches’ five-year summer average.
Further north, coastal beaches in Sonoma, Mendocino and Del Norte counties earned all A summer grades in the report. In an unusual twist, Northern California placed seven beaches on Heal the Bay’s annual Beach Bummer List, which ranks the top 10 most polluted shorelines in the state.
Cowell Beach at the wharf in Santa Cruz County has the dubious honor of being named to No. 1 spot on the Beach Bummer List in this year’s report. Other Northern California Beach Bummers include: Stillwater Cove, Capitola Beach and Clam Beach County Park in Humboldt County.
(For ranking of other Beach Bummer sites statewide, please consult the complete report.)
The Beach Report Card is a comprehensive evaluation of coastal water quality based on weekly samples taken from sites along the entire west coast of the U.S. A poor grade means beachgoers face a higher risk of contracting illnesses such as stomach flu, ear infections, upper respiratory infections and skin rashes than swimmers at cleaner beaches.
To avoid illness, Heal the Bay urges beachgoers to check the latest water quality grades, based on the latest samples, each week at beachreportcard.org. Before heading to the shoreline, visitors can also access the latest grades on the go by downloading Heal the Bay’s free apps for mobile devices.
On a more positive note, five beaches in the San Mateo were named to Heal the Bay’s Honor Roll, meaning they were monitored year-round and scored perfect A+ grades every week of the year, regardless of dry or rainy conditions.
Bay Area beaches slightly underperformed beaches statewide during the summer, according to this year’s report. In comparison to the Bay Area’s 92% rate of A or B grades, 95% of the 455 California beaches graded in the summer received an A or B.
The severe drought now impacting California is a major contributing factor to improved water quality at beaches statewide. With record low rainfall reducing the amount of polluted runoff funneled into our seas, scores rose on a year-to-year basis across the state.
While low rainfall totals have led to significantly improved water quality statewide, it should be noted that California often swings from extended dry periods to shorter periods of intense, wet weather. An El Nino is predicted for later this year, so renewed flows could exacerbate underlying water quality issues
In related good news, year-round wet-weather water quality at Bay Area beaches improved significantly from last year’s report and was above the state average. Some 72% of beaches received A or B marks during rainy weather, compared to 43% in last year’s report and this year’s state average of 69%.
Nonetheless, 10 Bay Area beaches still received grades of D or F in wet weather. Excessive storms have historically led to combined sewer discharges of undertreated sewage into the Bay.
Heal the Bay’s policy staff is advocating for a public funding measure to build infrastructure projects that capture, cleanse and reuse stormwater rather than dumping it uselessly into the sea. In an era of sustained drought, progressive city planning, smart public infrastructure and so-called Low Impact Development in the private sector would turn a nuisance into a resource.
“It’s encouraging that the Bay Area’s water quality has continued to improve during the peak summer season,” said Amanda Griesbach, a water quality scientist and lead author of the report. “However, this past year’s record dry conditions have likely had a strong influence on this year’s improved beach water quality grades.”
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 beachreportcard.org.
About the Beach Report Card
All county health departments in California are required to test beach water quality samples for three types of indicator bacteria at least once a week during the summer season. Many counties also monitor heavily used beaches year-round. Heal the Bay compiles the complex shoreline data, analyzes it and assigns an easy-to-understand letter grade.
The summary includes an analysis of water quality for three time periods: summer dry season (April through October 2013), winter dry weather (November 2013 through March 2014) and year-round wet weather conditions. The grading methodology is endorsed by the State Water Resources Control Board.
An FAQ section, methodology, weekly grade updates as well as historical grades can be found at www.beachreportcard.org.
Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card is made possible through the generous support of SIMA and the Swain Barber Foundation.
About Heal the Bay
Now in its 29th 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 15,000 members.
Contact: Matthew King, Communications Director, Heal the Bay, 310.463.6266, firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact: Amanda Griesbach, Beach Water Quality Scientist, Heal the Bay, (310) 321-2176, email@example.com
Partners: Michael Kellogg, SFPUC, 415-242-2218, firstname.lastname@example.org
Deb Self, San Francisco Baykeeper, Office: (415) 856-0444 x102, Mobile: (510) 882-1882; email@example.com
Vanessa Barrington, Save the Bay, 510-463-6850, firstname.lastname@example.org