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Heal the Bay puts O.C. on ‘honor roll’ for second year in a row on beach health report card

 A cyclist rolls along the Mountains to the Sea Trail.
A cyclist rolls along the Mountains to the Sea Trail and Bikeway path as he rides past Vaughn’s Launch on Friday in Newport Beach.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

In a year that saw 13 sewage spills and a massive oil spill just off of its coast, Orange County still has some of the safest beaches around.

In its annual report covering 700 beaches from Washington state to Tijuana, Heal the Bay — a Santa Monica environmentalist group that focuses on water and watersheds — noted that 19 Orange County beaches are on its “honor roll” of beaches that score perfect water quality grades all year.

The majority of these beaches are located in south Orange County, toward San Clemente and Dana Point; though local beaches such as Corona del Mar, Crystal Cove, Treasure Island Beach, Huntington City Beach at 17th Street, the Bolsa Chica Reserve at the flood gates and Laguna Lido were also included on this year’s honor roll.

Heal the Bay noted this is the second year in a row that Orange County has had the most beaches on its honor roll.

 Vaughn's Launch is rated No. 7 on Heal the Bay's "beach bummers" list for 2021-22.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Beaches are given a score based on a grading scale from A to F determined by the concentration of fecal indicator bacteria at ocean beaches. That bacteria does not harm humans but can help determine if other more problematic bacteria exists in the water. Heal the Bay assigns grades in three categories — a summer dry grade, a winter dry grade and a wet weather grade.

The summer dry grade typically comes out of samples taken from April to October. The winter dry grade comes from November to March, and the wet weather grade comes from samples taken during the three days after a storm resulting in at least 0.1 inches of rain.

The report, which was released on June 22, said summer dry grades in Orange County were “excellent” and above the five-year average, with 99% of its beaches scoring an A or B. Wet weather grades were also higher than average with 66% of beaches scoring an A or B.

Winter dry grades were also high with 95% of Orange County beaches scoring A’s and Bs.

A view of Treasure Island Beach and the Montage Laguna Beach.
A view of Treasure Island Beach and the Montage Laguna Beach in 2020. Treasure Island Beach has been included on Heal the Bay’s “honor roll” for three years in a row.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The county received only about 7 inches of rain in the past year, lower than the average of 9 inches, but that does not appear to have impacted the wet weather grades for the region in general.

A notable difference between this and last year, however, is that one of the county’s beaches appeared on Heal the Bay’s “beach bummer” list of beaches that received the poorest summer dry grades.

Vaughn’s Launch, near Newport Bay, is ranked No. 7 on the “beach bummer” list. Heal the Bay noted that Vaughn’s Launch is not a “typical” beach as it does not allow for swimming and fishing, but kayaking and paddleboarding are allowed.

The report notes that the quality of water at Vaughn’s Launch is affected by nearby San Diego Creek, which carries runoff from neighborhoods upstream. The report suggests the high bacteria concentration there could be related to the population of birds that live in that area but stresses that more investigation would be necessary to support that claim.

“A day at the beach and the river shouldn’t make anyone sick,” said Tracy Quinn, president and chief executive of Heal the Bay, in a statement released with the report.

A cyclist strolls along the Mountains to the Sea Trail and Bikeway path.
A cyclist rides along the Mountains to the Sea Trail and Bikeway path as he passes Vaughn’s Launch.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“It is wonderful news that most beaches in California have good water quality for swimming. But there are areas with poor water quality that need improvement and infrastructure upgrades,” said Quinn. “We can’t forget that our marine ecosystems are still threatened by the climate crisis and other pollution sources, and we need solutions to address these pressing issues as well.

“We expect people to increasingly seek out ocean shorelines and freshwater swimming holes to cool off as temperatures rise, so safe, clean, and healthy water is needed now more than ever.”

To read the full report visit healthebay.org/beachreportcard2022.

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