Seawater testing at beaches extended for a year

Health testing of California beaches has been extended for another year, giving temporary relief to the state program to protect swimmers from contaminated ocean water.

The State Water Resources Control Board voted Tuesday to spend $984,000 in state bond money to continue testing for pathogens at hundreds of beaches through 2011.

Beach water-quality monitoring has been in jeopardy because of state and county budget cuts. A Times investigation this summer found that testing had sunk to its lowest level in more than a decade, leading to fewer beach closures and advisories and putting swimmers, surfers and divers at a greater risk of getting sick.

The reprieve comes two years after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the $1 million the state had provided each year to test beaches across the state.

Since then, emergency bond funds and stimulus dollars have been tapped to keep the program afloat. But those funds were set to run out at the end of the year, leaving health agencies with the prospect of discontinuing testing and ending public alerts when the ocean poses a health risk.

In addition to the one-year extension, the water board called for wastewater agencies to coordinate their ocean water testing programs with health departments to save money.

A permanent source of funds for the tests, according to water board officials, can be authorized only by the Legislature and the next governor.

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