Beware Beach Water Quality

Bacteria thrives here.
Bacteria thrives here.

There was a time, decades ago, when Santa Monica Bay beaches were awash in trash, especially after winter rains. That time is pretty much long gone, and the efforts of environmental groups such as Heal the Bay have largely restored L.A.'s urban shoreline to its natural glory.

That's good for water sports enthusiasts, tourists and the regional economy. But it's especially good for Angelenos' health. Dirty water can cause gastroenteritis, diarrhea, headache, fever and worse. The conveyance for oceanic filth is usually urban runoff, which is supercharged when it rains. Unfortunately for some of your favorite beaches, it rained a lot over winter. It was the second rainiest water year (Oct. 1 to Sept. 30) in a decade, says National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Sirard. Downtown has seen 19 inches of precipitation.

The wet was welcome, of course, as it doused California's five-year drought. But it also meant that bacterial levels — the bellwether of funk — "spiked dramatically" and gave many Golden State beaches poor grades, according to Heal the Bay's annual Beach Report Card, released this week. "Wet weather still equates to poor grades and poor water quality," says Sarah Abramson Sikich, vice president of the nonprofit.

The good news is that, as thousands of Southern Californians are likely to head to the beach in the midst of a pre-summer heatwave, dry weather means the cold Pacific is generally clean. But if you must read 'em and weep, the report's list of 10 dirtiest beaches in California includes two in Los Angeles County: Santa Monica Pier and Mother's Beach in Marina del Rey.

The pier — which got an F for both dry and wet weather — has long suffered from its proximity to a storm drains. Sikich also said that its attraction for birds (and their droppings) might also contribute to the water quality below. Mother's Beach — it received a D for dry and an F for wet — seems to suffer from poor water circulation, which the county has tried to remedy with a "device," according to Heal the Bay.

But there's a bigger water-quality menace than bird poop and storm runoff: It's the administration of Donald J. Trump, which has proposed to cut funding to the U.S. Environmental Protection agency, which indirectly helps to pay for county water quality tests, Sikich says. Trump's efforts have been unsuccessful so far, but environmentalists have their guard up.

Leaders in California and Los Angeles County government continue to go their own way on the environment. Next year, it's expected that a water-quality improvement project will seek funds via a county ballot initiative, Sikich says. Efforts to capture storm-water runoff, treat it and return it to municipal water systems are the best way to make our beaches even cleaner, she says.

"As a surfer the way I think of this is, we want them to catch a sick wave, not a wave that makes them sick," she says.

Beware Beach Water Quality
Heal the Bay

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