Doheny State Beach in Dana Point was named the most polluted beach in California for the third year in a row by an environmental group that has been grading the state’s coastline for 14 years.
The popular surfing spot in south Orange County received Fs for water quality in the annual Heal the Bay Beach Report Card, released Wednesday. Three tests for fecal bacteria were performed, and Doheny scored below 60 points out of a possible 100 in each.
Heal the Bay, a Santa Monica-based environmental group, also cited nine other “beach bummers” with the worst dry-weather water quality. Among them were Surfrider Beach in Malibu, Avalon Beach on Santa Catalina and Kiddies Beach in Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard.
“They’re the worst of the worst in the state,” said Heal the Bay Executive Director Mark Gold. “Every single one has poor water circulation and a storm drain or creek discharging as a pollution source.”
Doheny stood out as the state’s most polluted shoreline, because of its inlet location, sewage runoff and bird droppings.
Of the 373 locations tested along the Pacific, 72% received an “A” grade for water quality. The cleanest beaches in the study, include Sunset Beach and Muddy Creek in Orange County, Portuguese Bend Cove in Rancho Palos Verdes, and Emma Wood State Beach and Mussel Shoals Beach in Ventura.
Water sampling was conducted by public health agencies. The study cites runoff from creeks, rivers and storm drains as the main source of beach water pollution. At the 10 most polluted beaches, water samples from the shoreline showed high levels of fecal bacteria.
“There is an appreciable risk for people going in the water based upon the standards we use for measuring ocean water quality,” said Bernard Franklin, acting director of the recreational health program in the Los Angeles County Health Department.
In serious cases, swimmers and surfers exposed to polluted water may experience abdominal pain, diarrhea, ear infection, upper respiratory infection and skin rashes, said Dr. Aliza Lifshitz, an internal medicine physician at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
“We don’t want to discourage people from using the beaches,” said Lifshitz, who serves on the Heal the Bay board of governors. “But in order to be safer, choose the ones that are less polluted and open to the ocean.”
At Doheny State Beach, a handful of surfers braved the report and overcast skies to take on the waves. They were not surprised by the findings.
After a surfing session, Dylan Van Zane, 41, came out of the ocean and headed straight for the shower. He has been coming to Doheny State Beach for 10 years and said his fellow surfers are aware of the health risks.
“Everyone knows about it. But what are you going to do? You’ve got to surf,” the Dana Point resident said.
As part of a California State Parks maintenance crew, Wylie Harrison is in charge of keeping up Doheny’s 2.5 miles of shoreline.
“This used to be the surf spot in the world,” Harrison said.
Harrison noted that on the east side of the beach, a creek flows directly into the ocean, bringing runoff from streets in Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano.
A jetty that extends from the west side of the beach obstructs ocean currents that would flow along the shoreline, he said.
As a result, water within the harbor becomes stagnant.
And then there are the sea gulls that flock here each fall.
“People leave their food exposed, and birds learn they can scavenge that way,” Harrison said. “Then they leave droppings all over the place.”
Despite the report, some are quick to defend their maligned hangout.
“This beach has some of the best beginner waves around,” said Wes Billings, who surfs there three times a week. “I love it, and I’m going to keep coming back.”