How polluted is your favorite California beach?

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As coronavirus beach restrictions continue to complicate summer plans, Californians have at least one thing to look forward to: Most of the coast is much cleaner than in the past.

In an annual survey of more than 500 beaches, Heal the Bay reported on Tuesday that 92% of the state’s beaches had good water quality ratings between April and October 2019 – a notable improvement from previous years , when heavy winter rains washed garbage, pesticides, dog poop, bacteria and automotive fluids, as well as microplastics, into storm drains and the ocean.

A A relatively dry year resulted in less polluted beaches, especially in Southern California, where Orange County had 20 of the state’s cleanest beaches.

Still, the environmental group noted stubborn (and surprising) pockets of pollution along the coast. Six of the 10 dirtiest beaches in the state this year are in San Mateo County, an unusually high number for this part of the Bay Area.

The other four on the Beach Bummer list are well-known hot spots in Southern California: Pocket Beach off the Creek and San Clemente Pier in Orange County; Topanga Beach, in Los Angeles County; and Vacation Isle North Cove, in Mission Bay, San Diego.

The ‘Grade Review’, now in its 30th year, assigns grades, from A + to F, based on routine beach water quality sampling carried out by beach health officials. counties, sanitation services, and state and tribal agencies. Water samples are analyzed for three indicator faecal bacteria that show pollution from many sources, including human and animal waste.

Since raw data and formatting varies from county to county, Heal the Bay has started compiling and translating the information every year into a simple note. The State Water Resources Control Board endorses this report, which has influenced important research over the years and pushed California to become a leader in drinking water monitoring.

Simply broken down, the higher the grade, the better the water quality. The lower the grade, the greater the health risks. Swimming on a beach with a grade of C or less greatly increases the risk of rashes, ear and upper respiratory tract infections, and other illnesses such as the stomach flu.

Beachgoers take a dip on a hot summer's day at the San Clemente Pier

Beach goers take to the water on a hot summer day at the San Clemente Pier on Tuesday, June 30, 2020. Heal the Bay has released its annual beach report and the San Clemente Pier was listed of the top 10 beach goers.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The dirtiest beach in California this year came as a surprise: the Fitzgerald Marine Preserve, near the outlet of San Vicente Creek in San Mateo County. The reserve generally has good water quality in the summer and has never been on the disappointment list before.

Linda Mar Beach in San Pedro Creek, Pacifica, made the top 10 for the third year in a row; Erckenbrack Park, in Foster City, arrived at # 4; and three locations in Half Moon Bay’s Pillar Point harbor were considered some of the dirtiest beaches in the state this year.

Luke Ginger, a water quality scientist at Heal the Bay, said there didn’t appear to be a single sewage spill or event that could explain why so many beaches in San Mateo County were more polluted than normal this year.

Officials in the region could look for leaking pipes, he said, and conduct some sort of investigation at the source – up the watershed and through storm sewers, for example, to find out where could come from pollution.

These notes in scarlet letters have inspired a number of projects over the years. Cowell Beach in Santa Cruz, a chronic top 10 disappointment, was taken off the list this year after city officials and environmental groups teamed up to fix sewer lines and divert polluted water before ‘it does not reach the ocean. They also found ways to deter birds from nesting and pooing on the pier.

In Long Beach, authorities improved water circulation in the Colorado Lagoon and removed contaminated sediment. Similar improvements were made to Avalon Harbor, which was one of the most polluted beaches in the state.

In Southern California, this year’s scores were generally good. Orange County had 20 beaches that received an A + rating every week, regardless of seasons and weather conditions, and San Diego County had 10, including five in Carlsbad, for the second year in a row.

Three Los Angeles County beaches also made Heal the Bay’s “honor roll”: Palos Verdes Cove and Palos Verdes Long Point, and Redondo State Beach on Topaz Street. In Ventura County, 100% of its beaches received an A rating for the second consecutive summer.

A woman walks along the rocky beach towards the tidal pools at Abalone Cove.

A woman walks along the rocky beach towards the tidal pools at Abalone Cove.

(For the time)

Range data has not always been so crisp or transparent. Thirty years ago swimmers got sick, especially after it rained, but few knew when or where to avoid the beach.

Mark Gold, Heal the Bay’s first scientist, still remembers an abnormal thunderstorm in the summer of 1989 that destroyed a sewage pumping station in Venice. The public swam in that dirty water all weekend, he said, and only heard about it several days later.

“That, for me,” he said, “was the last straw. “

He wrote the Beachside Bulletin and, along with a team of scientists, conducted an epidemiological study that established for the first time how sick people could contract swimming in water polluted by urban runoff. The constant drumbeat of poor beach qualities has prompted the state to demand standardized monitoring and public notification of sewage spills.

The state has since funded significant research and invested $ 100 million in Clean Beach Initiative grants, many of which have been prioritized based on beach bulletin rankings. Officials are also now using the data to help determine Clean Water Act violations, and real estate advertisers have even used A ratings to promote beachfront homes.

Monitoring methods and real-time reporting have also improved, and the investigation has expanded to beaches in Oregon and Washington state. Next year, the report will include three popular beaches in Tijuana that are regularly affected by raw sewage: El Faro, El Vigia and Playa Blanca.

“It really became something we weren’t expecting,” said Gold, who is now Gov. Gavin Newsom’s deputy secretary for coastal and ocean policy. “A whole generation of people going in the water right now, they have no idea how horrible the water quality was at the beach in the 1980s.”

Today, storm sewer runoff remains the biggest source of pollution for California beaches. Unlike our wastewater, which is typically filtered by treatment facilities before being released, most of this dirty water flows directly into the ocean through a network of concrete-lined storm drains and rivers. .

A good rule of thumb is to wait 72 hours after it rains before going into the ocean and stay at least 100 yards from storm sewers, piers, or closed beaches with poor water circulation.

Shelley Luce, president of Heal the Bay, says the growing public awareness has been remarkable, but the job is never done. She points to recent setbacks in law enforcement by the Environmental Protection Agency, which threaten to reverse decades of progress.

“The federal administration has used the COVID pandemic as an excuse to roll back environmental protections in a major, major way,” she said. California has even relaxed some of its own surveillance requirements, citing limits placed by stay-at-home orders.

“People need to be vigilant and understand that we need to protect our planet, our environment and our clean water,” she said, “no matter what else happens”.


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