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Some L.A., Orange County Beaches Get Failing Grades In Annual Water Quality Report

By the Santa Monica Pier. (Photo by Robert Koo via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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The rainy season we got was a welcomed surprised. We got so much water that it practically lifted us out of a historic, years-long drought. Heavy rainfall isn't always a big boon for the local ecology, however, as runoff pushes a lot of gross stuff out into the ocean, turning the water by the shores into a miasma of pollutants.

This effect was evident in Heal the Bay's 2017 "Beach Report Card," which takes a look at the water quality at California's beaches from April 2016 to March 2017. As researchers noted in the report, 98% of Southern California beaches received either an A or B grade during the summer months of 2016, when persistent dry conditions kept the waters clean. During rainy weather, however, only 51% of those beaches received an A or B.

The news is even more grim when we look at it up close. When it came to the "Beach Bummers" (or beaches that received either F or D grades) both L.A. and Orange counties were represented. Among the 10 beaches with the worst quality water in all of California, Orange County's San Clemente Pier (an F grade) and Monarch Beach (a D grade) were number two and 10, respectively. In L.A. County, Santa Monica Pier (D) and Mother’s Beach (also a D) were six and nine. The beach with the worst quality? The dubious title goes to Clam Beach County Park up in Humboldt County (Southern California isn't all bad!). These grades were actually based on water quality during the dry seasons, when the quality was supposed to be at its best; so it's hard to imagine how bad they were during the rainy periods.

Regarding the water around the Santa Monica Pier, researchers said that, "A 2011 to 2012 study from Heal the Bay, City of Santa Monica and UCLA found that (1) conditions under the pier (moisture and lack of sunlight) promote bacterial persistence." It notes that, "Through a Clean Beaches Initiative (CBI) grant, the city will start construction in 2017 on a 1.6 million gallon underground storage stormwater tank that will capture wet weather runoff that drains to the Santa Monica Pier storm drain." So there's some cause for optimism.

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As for what, exactly, goes into the water, you probably don't want to know. But a water quality scientist at Heal the Bay had told us in the past that E. coli, giardia, and norovirus—all of which may originate from fecal matter—are known to swim around in the waters after heavy rainfall. While opinions differ on how dangerous, exactly, it'd be to go into the water, factors like open wounds or a suppressed immune system make a person more susceptible for contracting disease. The water around piers (which block sunlight) and storm drains can be particularly bad when it comes to germs. Also, enclosed bodies of water, like Mother's Beach, can harbor a lot of bacteria due to the lack of water circulation.

Aside from the germs, you may also find pollutants such as car oil and cigarette butts.

The news isn't all bad! In fact, a good number of L.A. and Orange county beaches were on Heal the Bay's 2017 "Honor Roll," which lists beaches that received an A+ during all seasons and weather conditions. Malibu Point in Malibu and Bluff Cove in Palos Verdes were among the four L.A. County beaches that made it onto the list. In Orange County, 14 spots spread across Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Dana Point, and San Clemente made it onto the Honor Roll.

The report notes that, unfortunately, things might not be getting any better as a whole. Researchers point to President Trump's proposal to slash funds for the EPA by 31%—they believe that, if enacted, this would certainly spell the end for the BEACH Act. Signed into law in 2000, the act allowed the EPA to provide grants "to states, territories, tribes and local governments to protect beachgoers from contaminated water at coastal beaches including the Great Lakes. Grant funds are used to develop and implement beach monitoring and notification programs," according to the EPA's website.

"This is extremely concerning for two reasons: 1) many state beach programs are run completely on federal funds (such as Oregon) and 2) states are only legally required to implement beach programs when federal funding is provided. As such, the beach-going public is likely to be uninformed about local water quality conditions due to the lack of monitoring programs," researchers say in the Heal the Bay report.

You can read the full report here. Also, while it's still up and running, you can check the current water quality at your local beach here, thanks to Heal the Bay's up-to-date tracker. Give it a peep before you head out with your surfboard.