California Beaches Experience Decline in Quality After Fires, Rains in Heal the Bay Annual Report Card
The quality of California beaches decreased in 2018-19, according to the 29th annual Beach Report Card issued by Santa Monica-based environmental nonprofit Heal the Bay.
Each year, the Report Card monitors weekly levels of oceanic bacterial pollution gauged by county health agencies, assigning them letter grades ranging from A to F.
“Your favorite beach is generally clean and has really good water quality most of the time, so we encourage people to go out and enjoy the beach, but to always check the latest grade for your beach to know it’s safe,” Heal the Bay Water Quality Scientist Luke Ginger told the Palisadian-Post.
As the Post went to print, Will Rogers State Beach held an A+ grade on the Beach Report Card.
Will Rogers State Beach is divided into five testing sites: 17200 PCH, one-quarter mile east of the Sunset drain site, the Bel Air Bay Club drain site, the Pulga Canyon drain site, the Temescal Canyon drain site and the Santa Monica Canyon drain site.
These sites received letter grades for dry summer weather April to October, dry winter weather November to March and for wet weather year-round.
All sites remained in A or A+ levels April to October and November to March, but the wet weather presented a challenge. Temescal Canyon received an F in wet weather, along with a C for Pulga Canyon, a D for Bel Air Bay Club, an F for Sunset and an F for Santa Monica Canyon, which also received a D in the dry winter months. After the wet weather, the beaches have bounced back to the A grade.
Only 54% of California beaches received an A or B grade during wet weather this year, an 8% decrease from the state’s five-year average. The sag in quality this year was due to increased rain levels and wildfire damaging sewage infrastructure and increasing runoff through vegetation loss.
“Wet weather definitely causes a depression in grades across the board,” Ginger said. “The rainfall exacerbated the issues of wildfire so those two events combined caused really bad water quality, with potentially long-lingering effects.”
Nearly one million beachgoers contract illnesses each year in Los Angeles and Orange counties with total healthcare costs between $20 and $50 million. Coming into contact with water that is a grade of C or below greatly increases risk of stomach flu, ear infections and rashes.
“A day at the beach shouldn’t make anyone sick,” Dr. Shelley Luce, president and CEO of Heal the Bay, told the Post. “We are glad to see water quality improving at some beaches, but there are no guarantees.”
On the bright side, 94% of the 500 California beaches assessed in the Beach Report Card received an A or B grade over the summer season, when beaches are most used.
Over the last five years, 87% of Malibu beaches received A or B grades during dry winter weather. This year, however, only 57% received A or B grades in dry winter weather. One year prior to the Woolsey fire, 100% of Malibu beaches received A or B grades during dry winter weather.
In LA County, 91% of beaches received A or B grades in dry summer weather, 30% in wet weather and 70% in dry winter weather.
A total of 33 California beaches out of 500 total made it onto the “Honor Roll” this year (for beaches receiving year-round A+ grades in all weather conditions), a decrease from 37 beaches last year.
LA County had only two on the Honor Roll: Cabrillo Beach (oceanside) in San Pedro and Las Tunas Beach at Pena Creek in Malibu, a staggering decrease from last year’s eight Honor Roll beaches in LA County.
Three of four Malibu Honor Roll beaches fell off the list this year, along with three Palos Verdes beaches from last year’s list.
There is also the “Beach Bummer” list, which ranks the most polluted beaches in the state based on harmful levels of bacteria. Three LA County beaches made it onto the list: Long Beach City Beach at Coronado Avenue, Marina Del Rey’s Mother’s Beach and Cabrillo Beach (harborside).
Between 2018-19, LA County released 1.3 million gallons of sewage into the ocean after a 15-inch record rainfall (five inches higher than average).
Heal the Bay reminds all ocean goers to wait 72 hours to swim after any rain event, avoid shallow beaches, and always swim 100 yards away from flowing storm drains, creeks, and piers.
To monitor daily bacterial levels, visit beachreportcard.org.