The drought’s sil­ver lin­ing

Wa­ter qual­ity has im­proved along the coast. But L.A. County still leads the state in pol­luted beaches.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Hai­ley Bran­son-Potts hai­ley.bran­son@latimes.com

Cal­i­for­nia’s lin­ger­ing drought has con­tin­ued to have at least one sil­ver lin­ing: cleaner wa­ter along the coast, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port.

Wa­ter qual­ity along South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s coast im­proved last year amid the record-low rain­fall largely be­cause lower amounts of storm runoff flowed down to the coast, ac­cord­ing to the an­nual Beach Re­port Card re­leased Wed­nes­day by Heal the Bay, an en­vi­ron­men­tal group.

Ninety-four per­cent of Los An­ge­les County’s beaches — long among the most pol­luted in the state — re­ceived A or B grades for the high-traf­fic sum­mer months, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. That per­cent­age was up 4% from last year’s re­port and up 10% for the county’s sum­mer av­er­age for the last five years.

Statewide, 95% of Cal­i­for­nia’s beaches re­ceived A or B grades dur­ing the dry sum­mer months.

Heal the Bay’s anal­y­sis uses wa­terqual­ity test re­sults from hun­dreds of beaches to as­sign each a let­ter grade of A to F based on the level of bac­te­ria in beach wa­ter, which can in­di­cate pathogens that sicken swim­mers.

The lead­ing cause of wa­ter pol­lu­tion in lo­cal beaches is storm drain runoff, flow­ing un­treated to the coast and of­ten con­tam­i­nated with mo­tor oil, pes­ti­cides, yard waste, an­i­mal waste and other pol­lu­tants.

“Beach wa­ter qual­ity grades may be higher in a given year due to less runoff, yet the re­sult­ing im­proved wa­ter qual­ity should not pro­vide a false sense of long-term beach wa­ter qual­ity im­prove­ment,” the re­port states.

The “good news is that most of our beaches are clean,” Sarah Sikich, vice pres­i­dent of Heal the Bay, said in an in­ter­view. “We’d like peo­ple to just be vig­i­lant and check our re­port card be­cause we’d like them to visit the beach and not the emer­gency room.”

The study’s find­ings, Sikich said, are — es­pe­cially amid a drought — a re­minder that “we need to re­think storm runoff and turn that nui­sance into a re­source by cap­tur­ing, clean­ing and reusing it.”

Los An­ge­les County still leads the state in the num­ber of beaches with poor wa­ter qual­ity, ac­cord­ing to Heal the Bay.

Three L.A. County beaches made the re­port’s statewide list of the Top 10 worst-pol­luted Beach Bum­mers: Mother’s Beach in Ma­rina del Rey (which came in at No. 2), the pop­u­lar beach at Santa Mon­ica Pier (No. 6), and Cabrillo Beach in San Pe­dro (No. 9).

Mother’s Beach, an en­closed beach that gets few waves and “is more like a lake than a typ­i­cal ocean beach,” con­tin­ues to have wa­ter qual­ity is­sues de­spite the re­cent in­stal­la­tion of wa­ter cir­cu­la­tors and ef­forts to di­vert runoff in the area, said Carol Baker, a spokes­woman for the L.A. County Depart­ment of Beaches and Har­bors, which over­sees the beach.

The big prob­lem, Baker said, is bird poop. About 70% of the bac­te­ria in the wa­ter is com­ing from bird waste and about 10% from dogs, Baker said, cit­ing county stud­ies.

Baker said the county is in­creas­ing its public ed­u­ca­tion ef­forts, telling peo­ple not to feed to birds, walk their dogs on the beach or leave trash.

“Ev­ery beach has birds, but this is not a reg­u­lar beach,” she said. “The wa­ter does not cir­cu­late. At [Mother’s Beach], ev­ery­thing you learn from Mary Pop­pins is wrong: Do not feed the birds.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Heal the Bay re­port, the har­bor-side of Cabrillo Beach, another en­closed beach with poor cir­cu­la­tion, has made the Bum­mer list for 12 straight years, de­spite ex­ten­sive wa­ter qual­ity im­prove­ment projects.

“One so­lu­tion, which may ap­pear dra­matic, may be to elim­i­nate swimming at this beach as a mat­ter of pro­tect­ing public health,” the re­port states.

For the first time in the study’s 25year-history, a Hunt­ing­ton Beach lo­cale made the Bum­mer list: Hunt­ing­ton State Beach at Brookhurst Street was 10th on the list. Over­all, 95% of Or­ange County beaches re­ceived A grades last sum­mer.

Beach qual­ity plum­mets dur­ing wet weather, with only 63% of Cal­i­for­nia’s mon­i­tored beaches re­ceiv­ing A or B grades as runoff in­creased. As a re­sult, Heal the Bay rec­om­mends peo­ple not swim or surf in recre­ational wa­ters dur­ing rain­storms and for at least three days af­ter­ward.

Wa­ter qual­ity could turn worse if there is a pow­er­ful El Niño this win­ter, Heal the Bay said.

Ir­fan Khan Los An­ge­les Times

Christina House For The Times

SYD­NEY JUAN, 3, looks for sea shells with her mother, He­len Sam­brano, at Ma­rina del Rey’s Mother’s Beach, which was ranked No. 2 on Heal the Bay’s list of worst-pol­luted beaches in the state.

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