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Most Beaches’ Water Quality Better

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Water quality at most Southern California beaches improved slightly this summer, with 84% receiving very good to excellent marks. Still, a few popular beaches were so consistently polluted that they were deemed “beach bummers” by Heal the Bay, which released its third annual summer beach report card Thursday.

Improvement was most marked in Los Angeles County, where 82% of beaches received good to excellent ratings, compared with 68% last year.

“It’s good to finally see water quality move in the right direction, but it demonstrates that we still have a long way to go with a lot of beaches,” said Mark Gold, executive director of the Santa Monica-based water-quality group.

Orange County, where 80% of the beaches were rated good or excellent, saw a very slight dip in water quality this summer and had the most beach closures caused by sewage spills. Stretches of shoreline were closed 20 times by spills that released 29,475 gallons of sewage into the ocean this summer.

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Using weekly data provided by county health agencies, Heal the Bay gives beaches grades from A through F based on the risk of swimmers becoming ill. The report, which covers May through mid-October, is an analysis of data from 365 monitoring stations from Santa Barbara County to the Mexican border.

Gold cautioned that the seemingly positive findings were based on the dry-weather summer months. Pollution is typically much worse in the winter, when heavy rains send so much runoff pollution into the ocean that it can create a plume that stretches to Catalina Island, 26 miles away.

But even during the summer, some popular coastal stretches, including parts of Doheny State Beach and Baby Beach in Dana Point and Surfrider Beach in Malibu, failed state health standards so regularly that they received Fs. Other Orange County beaches to get the lowest rating were 43rd Street Beach on Newport Bay and Poche Beach at the border of Dana Point and San Clemente.

Gold said that during the summer, the biggest pollution problems are poor tidal circulation--typically at sheltered beaches such as Dana Point’s Baby Beach--and urban runoff, the toxic mixture of oil, pet waste and other pollutants washed off streets and lawns into storm drains and, eventually, the ocean.

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The percentage of beaches in the good to excellent range--Bs and A’s--increased from 80% in 2000 to 84% this year, according to the report. That improvement was caused by two factors, Gold said, one natural and one man-made: natural variations in water quality from one year to the next and efforts to prevent urban runoff from reaching the ocean.

Diversion systems connect storm drains to the sewer system so that during dry weather, runoff is routed to a sewage treatment plant instead of the ocean.

“Over the years, there have been several storm drains that had diversion systems put on. This helps an awful lot,” said Richard Kebabjian, chief of the recreational health program in the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.

He added that increased public-awareness efforts by environmental groups and county agencies have also decreased the amount of polluted runoff being sent to the ocean.

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Santa Barbara County remained a trouble spot in Southern California, with only 65% of its beaches receiving A’s or Bs. Attempts to reach county officials were unsuccessful.

The report is available on the group’s Web site at https://www.healthebay.org. Starting today, Heal the Bay will expand its weekly online beach report card to include all of California’s popular beaches.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Cleaner Bill of Health

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