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7 beaches in L.A. County among most polluted in state, report says

Times Staff Writer

Although record low rainfall made most of California’s coastal waters safer to bathe in over the past year by reducing contaminated storm and creek runoff into the ocean, it wasn’t enough to improve potentially risky bacteria levels at some of Los Angeles County’s best known beaches, according to an annual environmental report released Wednesday.

For the second straight year, Los Angeles County had the worst coastal water quality in the state for the 12 months ending March 31, with seven beaches ranking among the state’s 10 most polluted, according to the environmental group Heal the Bay. The nonprofit group assesses daily and weekly fecal bacteria pollution from nearly 500 California beach sites from Humboldt County to the Mexican border, giving each a grade of A through F.

Beaches rated F included Surfrider and Marie Canyon storm drain in Malibu, Santa Monica Municipal Pier area, Castle Rock in the Pacific Palisades area, and Avalon on Catalina Island. Higher bacteria counts raise the risk of contracting gastrointestinal ailments, ear infections, upper respiratory infections and skin rashes, and can also harm fish and wildlife.

The biggest surprise in this year’s report: the dramatic deterioration in water quality along the several-mile Long Beach coastline, which ranked worst in the state, said Mark Gold, president of Heal the Bay. Nearly all of the 25 beaches tested there received grades of C through F -- 14 of them Ds and Fs -- leading the environmental group to lump the city’s beaches into a single entity.

“It’s a very dramatic change, as Long Beach historically has had excellent water quality,” Gold said.

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Long Beach city officials said they were at a loss to explain the cause. They suspected faulty boat-sewage pumping equipment, but replacing the pumps last summer didn’t resolve the pollution problem.

Nelson Kerr, Long Beach environmental health manager, said other areas may be contributing to the problem. The Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers feed into the ocean on either side of Long Beach, meaning that the coastline is the “storm-drain dumping ground” for a “long stream of 875 miles and 43 cities with 10 million people” that feed into the watershed.

In other cities, the fecal bacteria contamination can vary every few hundred yards: One beach near a pier, storm drain or creek runoff area might get a failing grade, but another one a few hundred yards away might be fine. Such runoff may contain animal and human waste, oil and trash deposited directly into the ocean.

For instance, at sixth-worst Santa Monica pier, more than 80% of the samples tested got Ds or Fs over the year, with the best samples eking out Cs. But other Santa Monica beaches get top marks -- so beach-goers would be wiser to go to those, Gold said.

“When you have so many beaches to choose from, it doesn’t make sense to swim ... [at a polluted] beach, when you can go a mile away to Ocean Park, which almost always gets A’s,” Gold said.

Several beaches perennially appear on Heal the Bay’s annual “Beach Bummer” list, including Santa Monica pier, Surfrider, Avalon Beach on Catalina Island and Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro.

Diversion systems that channel storm water and runoff into treatment plants helped improve the water quality at Will Rogers State Beach and Monarch Beach in Dana Point, which also have made the worst-beach list in recent years.

Also absent for the first time in many years was Doheny State Beach in Dana Point. The drought dried up most of the runoff into the surf there, Gold said.

Other entries on the “Beach Bummer” 10-worst list were in San Mateo, Sonoma and Santa Barbara counties.

Overall, however, water quality along the state has been “above average,” mostly because of the low rainfall. From San Luis Obispo County north to Humboldt County, more than 90% of the beaches earned A’s in terms of quality.

Jonathan Bishop, chief deputy director of the state Water Resources Control Board, noted that only 8% of the beaches in the state received Fs.

“It’s getting better, but there’s still a ways to go,” he said. “It highlights what state and regional boards have been saying for a long time -- that we have to control the runoff.”

Gold wasn’t so sanguine. If there hadn’t been a drought, there would have been little improvement in overall beach quality, Gold said. About 74% of the Southern California beaches monitored over the summer received A grades, but only 40% of those scored the top grade during wet weather, with 27% receiving Fs.

“It demonstrates that California as a whole has done a poor job of reducing storm water pollution,” Gold said. “In the summer months, there are a lot of success stories, but in the winter, I can’t point to one beach that is a success story.”

valerie.reitman@latimes.com

The report and individual grades Heal the Bay gave nearly 500 beaches in California can be seen at www.healthebay.org.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Failing grades on beach pollution

A Santa Monica environmental group graded nearly 500 California beaches based on how often the water exceeded bacterial limits between April 2006 and March 2007. For more information go to healthebay.org.

The bottom 10

(1 is worst)

1. Long Beach coastline

2. Castle Rock Storm Drain

3. Marie Canyon Storm Drain

4. Avalon Beach, on Catalina Island

5. Surfrider Beach

6. Santa Monica Municipal Pier

7. Campbell Cove State Park Beach, Bodega Bay

8. Venice Beach at Frenchman’s Creek, Half Moon Bay

9. Arroyo Burro beach, Santa Barbara

10. Cabrillo Beach, harbor side

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Source: Heat the Bay


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