California Drought's Silver Lining: Less Poop in the Ocean

We are well into our fourth year of California's existence-threatening drought, and have been inundated — flooded, one might say — with tales of drought terror and drought-shaming and drought-splaining, and everyone knows how many gallons it takes to grow a single almond but what about alfalfa and so on. (You can play along at home with our very own California Drought Story Bingo.)

But there is a little talked-about upside to the great parching of 2011 to 2015: unsoiled beaches. Literally.

When you live in a city, nothing sullies the ocean like rain. A good storm will flush all sorts of shit — garbage, oil from the streets and actual shit from humans and animals alike — into the sea via storm drains, creeks, streets and other means of runoff. The fact that it hasn't rained much lately means Southern California beaches are looking extra sparkly and the saltwater is particularly clean. 

"One of the silver linings to the drought is good water quality along our beaches," says Sarah Sikich, vice president of Heal the Bay. "When runoff doesn’t get to the ocean, we don’t see as many water-quality problems. So this should be an indicator to municipalities, that investing in projects that capture, cleanse and reuse runoff, rather than dumping it out to sea, will have water-quality benefits."

Heal the Bay just came out with its annual Beach Report Card, in which it assess the cleanliness of beach water up and down the West Coast.

Once again, Los Angeles County has three of the 10 worst beaches in California, or as Heal the Bay calls them, the "Top 10 Beach Bummers."

Mother's Beach in Marina del Rey was the second-filthiest beach in the state, on account of it being an "enclosed waterbody." Parents with small children like these enclosed beaches because they're basically like swimming in a pool, with no waves. But they also have very little water circulation, allowing bacteria to just sit there and fester. 

The popular beach near Santa Monica Pier was the sixth-biggest bummer, thanks in part to "chronic beach pollution" and a ton of birds who like to poop in the water. And Cabrillo Beach, an enclosed waterbody at the southern tip of San Pedro not far from the huge Port of Los Angeles, narrowly made the list, coming in at No. 9.

But, thanks in part to the drought that has left vast amounts of unspeakable gunk sitting on the surface streets and in culverts and dry washes, just waiting to ride into the sea, many of L.A.'s beaches had exceptional water quality last year, especially during the summer of 2014. The sparkling waters of Palos Verdes were particularly immaculate, as were Zuma, Hermosa and Manhattan beaches.

Others, like Venice Beach, were generally clean — unless it rained.

Besides being just plain gross, swimming in filthy waters can result in ear, eye and upper-respiratory infections, as well as stomach flu and skin rashes.

Health officials recommend forgoing ocean swimming for at least three days after a significant rainfall, though a study by Heal the Bay and UCLA suggests the waiting period should be more like five days.

Here's the complete list of top 10 Beach Bummers, according to Heal the Bay:

1) Cowell Beach at the Wharf (Santa Cruz County)
2) Mother's Beach in Marina del Rey (Los Angeles County)
3) Clam Beach County Park (Humboldt County)
4) Marina Lagoon, Aquatic and Lakeshore Park (San Mateo County)
5) Mission Bay, Visitor's Center (San Diego County)
6) Santa Monica Pier (Los Angeles County)
7) Candlestick Point, Sunnydale Cove (San Francisco County)
8) Stillwater Cove (Monterey County)
9) Cabrillo Beach, Inner (Los Angeles County)
10) Huntington State Beach, projection of Brookhurst Street (Orange County)


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