But 14 beaches get D or F grade; cuts to testing programs put swimmers at risk
For the seventh consecutive summer, California beachgoers experienced excellent water quality, according to the 2013 End of Summer Beach Report Card® issued today by environmental group Heal the Bay.
In its latest survey, Heal the Bay assigned an A-to-F letter grade to 450 beaches along the California coast based on levels of bacterial pollution reported weekly from Memorial Day to Aug. 21. This summer, 96% of sites earned A or B grades, the same percentage as in last year’s seasonal report.
Heading into the end-of-summer Labor Day holiday, ocean users can take comfort in steadily improving water quality grades over the past decade. The completion of dozens of infrastructure improvements to divert and/or treat polluted runoff has played the major role in rising grades during the past 10 years.
But pockets of polluted beaches continue to pose health risks during the high-traffic summer beach season. Some 14 beaches statewide scored D or F grades in this summer’s report. Los Angeles County, which historically has the worst water quality in the state, and San Mateo County accounted for the majority of the D and F grades.
Poor water quality is often found at beaches near flowing storm drains, piers and enclosed water bodies with inadequate circulation. The worse grade a location receives, the greater the risk of such serious illness as stomach flu, ear infections, upper respiratory infections and skin rashes.
The seven beaches that scored failing marks this summer: Los Angeles County’s Cabrillo Beach-harborside; San Mateo County’s Pillar Point Harbor, Aquatic Park and Lakeshore Park; Santa Cruz County’s Cowell Beach; Monterey County’s Stillwater Cove and Humboldt County’s Clam Beach County Park.
On the positive side, L.A. County, the state’s most populous region, marked yet more improvement in its summer beach water quality. Some 80 out of 89 (90%) beaches notched A or B grades, a 3% uptick from last year. The counties with perfect summer water-quality grades at monitored locations this year are, Ventura, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco and Mendocino.
For a county-by-county breakdown with information on regional trends and specific beaches, please visit healthebay.org/brcsummer.
In a bid to protect public health, Heal the Bay updates water quality grades each week in a searchable, online database. Beachgoers can find out which beaches are safe and unsafe, check recent water quality history and look up details on beach closures. Ocean users can access grades from any computer, or download a free Beach Report Card mobile app for their iPhone or Android, at www.beachreportcard.org.
While beachgoers can bask in this summer’s generally high grades, proposed funding cuts by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) may have a damaging effect on water quality monitoring programs in California and throughout the nation.
In its most recent budget, the USEPA completely gutted its Beaches Grant Program, a key initiative for protecting public health at our nation’s beaches. The agency proposes to eliminate nearly $10 million in funding used to help states conduct regular beach water quality monitoring and notifications.
Several counties in California rely solely on this money to conduct testing and are scrambling to find replacement funds. In the meantime, many counties have cut back on both the frequency and the number of beaches tested.
“Americans rely on water quality monitoring and reporting to ensure that the water we swim, surf and play in is safe,” said Amanda Griesbach, a Heal the Bay water quality scientist who authored this year’s report. “The public deserves to know that the water is safe when they go to the beach. “
Heal the Bay is encouraged by the Senate Appropriations Committee’s recent drafting of a bill that restores federal Beach Program funds. Heal the Bay, along with our environmental partners, will continue to advocate on behalf of this vital public health program.
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 grading methodology is endorsed by the State Water Resources Control Board.
Heal the Bay’s interactive microsite www.beachreportcard.org contains an FAQ section, methodology, weekly grade updates as well as seasonal and historical grades. Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card is made possible through the generous support of simplehuman, LAcarGUY, Surf Industry Manufacturing Assn., and the Grousbeck Family Foundation
About Heal the Bay
Heal the Bay is a Santa Monica-based nonprofit environmental organization making Southern California coastal waters and watersheds safe, healthy and clean. We use science, education, community action and advocacy to pursue our mission.