Report: Bacteria closed beaches

There were 59 beach closures or advisories in Newport Beach in 2008, according to a report released this week from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Of those advisories and closures, the report shows that an overwhelming number were from bacteria polluting the water, usually from an unknown source. Most closures and advisories were in the harbor and Back Bay, which a majority of official and unofficial storm drains empty into.

Streets near the mouth of the Santa Ana River showed frequent problems, such as Grant Street, which saw four closures or advisories last year from bacteria.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a nonprofit environmental group with more than 1.2 million members nationwide. The group issues an annual report using local data from around the country on beach closures, advisories and how often beaches exceed public health standards.

Overall, Orange County beaches exceeded health standards for bacteria levels in the water 9% of the time. The group looked at water sample results from popular beaches across the county.

Most water sampling areas in Newport Beach were chosen for their popularity and closeness to storm drains, the group said. Newport tests much of its water dozens of times a year, at least once a week and, in some areas, more than 200 times a year.

Newport Beach’s water off 38th Street was tested 226 times last year and had unhealthy levels of bacteria 4% of the time.

Water samples were tested for fecal bacteria, among other types. While the report showed clearly that water in Newport Harbor is generally polluted, it also showed that water where swimmers are most frequent — along the Newport and Balboa piers — is virtually pristine.

Water around each pier received a five-star rating from the nonprofit group, meaning not only did it stay clean last year, but at least the two years before. Water was sampled above and beyond how often it needed to be, and health officials were quick to issue warnings if they saw unhealthy bacteria levels in the water, the report showed.

California as a whole ranked 22nd in the country for the cleanest beaches. Orange County had the fifth most frequent bacteria level violations in the state.

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