Orange County beaches earn high marks

California's coastline — helped along, ironically, by the drought — had an especially healthy year, the environmental nonprofit Heal the Bay's annual Beach Report Card said, and Orange County's beaches rode the tide.

Beaches from Seal Beach to San Clemente earned high marks, according to the report, which grades water quality at various points along the coast.

Of the 102 Orange County locations rated in the 2013-14 report, 96% scored A's during dry summer weather, and 97% of locations monitored year-round earned A or B grades during dry weather in the winter.

The report also listed 12 Orange County beaches on its honor roll, meaning they received A+ grades in all three monitoring periods — the most of any county in the state.

The 12 included Sunset Beach near Broadway and Bolsa Chica State Beach across from the reserve flood gates in Huntington Beach; The Wedge, Park Avenue Beach and Rocky Point Beach in Newport Beach; Emerald Bay, Main Beach, Table Rock Beach, the beach near Laguna Lido Apartments and 1000 Steps Beach in Laguna Beach; and Trafalgar Street Beach and the beach near Avenida Calafia in San Clemente.

None of Orange County's beaches rated poorly enough to make the report's "Beach Bummers" list.

County officials lauded cleanup efforts at Poche Beach, a stubbornly polluted spot in San Clemente that dropped off the "Bummers" list for the first time in six years.

"This year's report card is welcome news," Supervisor Pat Bates, whose district encompasses Poche, said in a county news release. "We have been very committed to discovering why certain beaches had poor water quality and took some very creative steps to fix the problems."

Among those: hiring a falconer to send birds of prey to frighten off seagulls mucking up the water at Poche and placing two plastic coyotes in spots where they could "act as silent bird bouncers," the release said.

Bates added, "Orange County's beaches are a beacon for residents and tourists, and we want to keep them clean and inviting."

Because run-off tends to be one of the biggest sources of pollution for coastal waters, beaches often earn significantly lower grades during wet weather. That's also why the historic drought afflicting the state has actually meant cleaner water at California's beaches.

According to the report, the percentage of locations in the county to earn A or B grades during wet weather dipped to 66% from 73% in the 2012-13 report, though that was still higher than the county's five-year average of 59%.

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