Water quality up at beaches

The water at 82% of Los Angeles County’s beaches earned solid A or B grades in Heal the Bay’s annual Beach Report Card, but many of the state’s most polluted shores continue to be in the county.

Last year, the Santa Monica-based environmental group reported a dip in water quality that bucked years of steady improvement. That was attributed in part to heavy rainfall.

Heal the Bay credited the gains this year to a drier winter and the construction of more facilities to capture, treat and divert tainted storm water before it reaches the ocean.

The city of Los Angeles has completed eight such projects from Pacific Palisades to Playa del Rey, the group said. In most cases, nearby beaches have seen improved water quality.

“They received really stellar grades,” said Amanda Griesbach, a Heal the Bay water quality scientist.


Still, L.A. County remains below the state average: 92% of California’s beaches earned A or B grades, up 2 percentage points from the prior year.

The report evaluated hundreds of beaches in California, Oregon and Washington from April 2011 to March 2012, giving them grades of A to F based on tests for bacterial pollution levels, which indicate how likely the water is to harbor pathogens that can make swimmers sick.

Long Beach continued its dramatic turnaround, the report shows. The water at 93% of the sites monitored on the city’s beaches, long polluted by the runoff that washes down the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers, earned A and B grades during the summer of 2011, up from 27% the previous year.

The improvements could be traced to the city’s efforts to repair its sewer system and divert and disinfect storm runoff. Officials began noting dramatically better test results last year.

Many of the region’s chronically polluted beaches stayed that way. Seven of the state’s top 10 most polluted beaches are in L.A. County.

Topping the list is Catalina’s Avalon Harbor Beach, where a leaking sewer system has made it one of the dirtiest in California for nearly a decade. Other “beach bummers” included four in Malibu -- Puerco Beach, Surfrider Beach, Solstice Canyon Beach and Escondido Beach -- and two in Orange County: Doheny State Beach in Dana Point and San Clemente’s Poche Beach.