Polluted surf will persist in Ventura County into the new year as no-swimming signs remain posted at four beaches over the holiday weekend, sullying a mostly clean year at local beaches, health officials said Thursday.
People are urged to keep out of the water at Rincon Beach, near the flagpole; Emma Wood State Beach, near the storm drain; and Oxnard’s Hobie Beach and Channel Islands Harbor Beach Park. Tests show excessive amounts of disease-causing bacteria have caused water at those locations to fail minimum health standards, according to tests taken this week by the county Environmental Health Division.
Swimmers, waders and surfers should stay at least 50 yards from each side of the signs posted on those beaches, officials advise.
As gross as conditions may seem at those locations, most of Ventura County’s shores have been safe for swimming in 1999, with a few notable exceptions. Since the county began weekly ocean water quality testing in October 1998, unsafe levels of bacteria have led to warning signs posted at beaches 283 times, according to data compiled by county officials.
Of the more than 3,000 weekly ocean water samples that county officials have taken in the last 14 months, only about 9% show unsafe amounts of bacteria churning in the surf. Fifty-three locations are tested in Ventura County each week, said Richard Hague, coordinator of the ocean water quality program for the county.
Most beaches test clean most of the time. Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay, which produces a weekly beach report card for Southern California, gives all but a few Ventura County beaches an A+ grade for water quality during dry weather conditions this year.
Below-average rainfall is helping to keep beaches relatively clean. There just hasn’t been enough rain to wash contaminants into storm drains and creeks.
“We’ve had zero rain, and most beach problems are attributed to runoff,” said Glen Kent of Oxnard, who has done ocean water quality testing for the Surfrider Foundation.
The beach postings that do occur are typically concentrated at a few locations. For example, Channel Islands Harbor Beach Park and Hobie Beach are chronic offenders, with more warnings posted in those two locations than anywhere else. Other pollution hot spots include Rincon Point, Ormond Beach, Surfers Point in Ventura and portions of San Buenaventura State Beach.
No one knows for certain where the pollution comes from, although raw sewage spills were a factor. For example, a 7,500-gallon spill in March closed Ventura Harbor and nearby beaches; a 15,000-gallon spill struck the same area again in October, and a 600-gallon spill closed the Ventura Keys this month.
Contaminated runoff from farms and city streets, however, can carry enormous quantities of pollution to the ocean. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers runoff the nation’s biggest outstanding source of water pollution.
While government agencies have been successful in cleaning up pollution from factories and sewage-treatment plants, they have not had as much success tracking down and reducing pollution from small, dispersed sources, including auto shops, city streets and crops.
“The response so far is to notify the public, but not alleviate the problem,” Kent said. “We need to get to the point where we look at the reasons why we are having these problems. That is the next goal.”
For the most current information on local beach conditions, call the county ocean water quality hotline at 662-6555 or visit its Web site at https://www.ventura.org/env_hlth/ocean.htm. Or check out the weekly beach report card at the Web site operated by nonprofit Heal the Bay at https://www.healthebay.org.