School's almost out...but the grades are in for California's beaches!
Californians heading to the shore this summer can bask in record high beach water quality grades. According to our 2014 Beach Report Card, California’s overall water quality during the summer dry time period this past year was excellent, with 95% A or B grades, slightly above the five-year average. Overall, only 23 of the beaches monitored statewide received C to F grades during summer dry weather, when most beachgoers typically use the ocean. High bacteria counts at these sites are linked to potential illnesses like stomach flu, ear and upper respiratory infections and major skin rashes. Some 431 beaches, or 95%, received A or B grades during the summer. Statewide wet weather water quality was near an all-time high this year (most likely due to one of the driest years on record in California) with 69% A or B grades, besting the five-year average by 12%.
Over the past few years, rainfall levels in California (and especially in Southern California) were well below average. In fact precipitation levels this past winter were 44% and 57% of the previous 10 winter averages for Los Angeles and San Francisco rain stations, respectively. During drier weather conditions there is less overall runoff, which is the main source of pollutants, such as bacteria, to the beach water. Beach water quality grades may be higher in a given year due to less runoff, yet the resulting improved water quality may be providing a false sense of long-term beach water quality improvement.
With the state's boom-and-bust water cycle, storms will return during El Nino years. In a time of water scarcity, Heal the Bay advocates for capturing, treating and reusing stormwater rather than funneling it to pollute the sea.
Heal the Bay’s annual Beach Bummer List, a ranking of the state’s 10 most polluted beaches, features a nice success story this year. Avalon Beach on Catalina Island, long troubled by aging sewer infrastructure, fell off the list for the first time since 2000. It had made the list 12 of the last 14 years. Since 2012, the City of Avalon has spent over $5.7 million on sewer main improvements and beach water quality grades are much improved, sparing its inclusion on the dreaded Beach Bummer List. Poche Beach in Orange County, a habitual Bummer, also dropped off the list this year thanks to an interesting falconry and coyote decoy program that eliminated roosting birds.
This Year's Beach Bummers
Cowell Beach – at the wharf (Santa Cruz County)
Marina Lagoon (San Mateo County)
Marina del Rey – Mother's Beach (Los Angeles County)
Cabrillo Beach harborside (Los Angeles County)
Stillwater Cove (Monterey County)
Clam Beach County Park (Humboldt County)
Santa Monica Pier (Los Angeles County)
Pillar Point Harbor (San Mateo County)
Capitola Beach – West of jetty (Santa Cruz County)
Windsurfer Circle at Candlestick Point (San Francisco County)
It's not all bad news. Check out which beaches made the Honor Roll this year! Southern California had excellent summer dry weather water quality with 97% A or B grades. This was the third year in a row of very low rainfall in Southern California and as a result its beaches experienced less urban runoff, which likely led to the improvement of overall grades. Summer dry weather grades in the San Francisco Bay area (Marin County through San Mateo County) were also excellent with 95% (42 of 44) of ocean-side locations receiving A or B grades. (On a side note, if you'd like to check S.F. Baykeeper's map of recent sewage spills in the Bay Area click here.)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is once again recommending the complete elimination of its Beaches Grant Program, a key initiative for protecting public health at our nation’s beaches. Nearly $10 million in beach water-quality monitoring money is on the chopping block in the administration’s recently issued federal budget proposal for fiscal year 2014. Many counties in California rely solely on this money to conduct testing. Heal the Bay is urging Congress to restore funding to safeguard the 90 million people who visit U.S. beaches annually.
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 app for mobile devices.