Water quality improves in last year

Newport Beach's water quality during rainy weather improved dramatically at the city's beaches over the last year but continued to rate poorly along the bay, according to a report released by Heal the Bay.

The recently released score card monitored water quality at beaches up and down the coast from April 2010 through March. In 2009-10, most of Newport's beaches received F grades during rainy weather. In 2010-11, almost all had A grades.

Councilwoman Nancy Gardner said efforts to keep contaminants out of the ocean have made a difference.

"We've had new programs we've instituted," Gardner said. "Buildings now have to do different things to manage storm water runoff. We have good street sweeping, which makes a surprising difference. We have a very active code enforcement, so when there's bad building practices we quickly get on top of that. And also the residents really care about the ocean and bay."

The data in the annual Beach Report Card are collected from weekly water samples that measure the levels of three types of bacteria in ankle-deep water at the shores.

According to Heal the Bay, potential health risks from swimming in contaminated ocean water include stomach flu, ear infection, upper respiratory infection and skin rashes.

Even at beaches with A-plus grades, swimmers are cautioned to stay out of the water for 72 hours after it rains, said Amanda Griesbach, a water quality scientist with Heal the Bay.

Rain washes contaminants like pesticides, fertilizers and animal waste into the ocean.

Despite the improvement, some of Newport's beaches still had poor grades during rainy weather. All of the beaches in Newport Bay scored D or F grades, and those at Orange Street and the Lido Yacht Club scored Cs.

Overall, Orange County beaches scored well, but even during dry weather, some did poorly. North Beach Doheny and Poche Beach, in San Clemente, scored Fs during dry weather, making the report card's "beach bummers" list of the top 10 worst-scoring beaches in the state.

Heal the Bay also posts weekly scores, so beachgoers can check up-to-date water quality information at beachreportcard.org.

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