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Huntington State Beach rated a water-quality 'bummer' for first time

Huntington State Beach rated a water-quality 'bummer' for first time
A prospective lifeguard stretches before a tryout in March at Huntington State Beach. A stretch of the beach at Brookhurst Street was ranked the 10th most polluted in California by environmental group Heal the Bay in its latest Beach Report Card. (File photo: Drew A. Kelley)

For the first time, a beach in Huntington Beach is one of the 10 most polluted in California, according to environmental group Heal the Bay, which on Wednesday released its 2014-15 Beach Report Card.

The Santa Monica-based organization, which has been rating water quality at Western beaches for 25 years, ranked a stretch of Huntington State Beach near Brookhurst Street as No. 10 on its list of "beach bummers," the only Orange County beach on the list.

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The Beach Report Card gives grades of "A" through "F" based largely on routine monitoring of water quality by local health agencies at 468 beaches on the West Coast. Water samples are analyzed for bacteria that indicate pollution from various sources, including fecal waste. The better the grade, the lower the risk of illness to ocean users, according to the group.

The report looks at how water quality at the beaches fares during what it considers summer (April to October), winter (November to March) and during wet weather throughout the year.

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"[Huntington State Beach at Brookhurst] barely made the list," Heal the Bay Vice President Sarah Sikich said. "It received an average of a 'D' grade across the wet and dry seasons. We saw the grades plummet at that beach during the wet season. In the summer, it received an average of a 'C,' but in the winter and wet weather days, it receiving a failing grade."

In last year's report, the location received an A for the summer and Cs for the other periods.

Sikich said the nonprofit is working with Orange County officials to figure out why the water quality at that stretch of beach is declining.

"There are a couple of outlets from nearby marshes that may be contributing bacteria to the coast there," she said. "That's one thing we want to look into a little more closely."

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Garry Brown, executive director of Costa Mesa-based environmental nonprofit Orange County Coastkeeper, said the group has been "aware of the problem around Brookhurst for a long time." But there isn't "one smoking gun" as to why the water quality suffers there, he said.

The report says a change in the water sampling location "closer to potential sources of pollution" may have been a factor in the lower rating.

However, the Orange County Sanitation District, which samples the water and submits it to the Orange County Health Care Agency's environmental health department, says the sample site was not moved. The sample station is off Brookhurst Street and Pacific Coast Highway, at the south end of Huntington State Beach, according to the district.

"That station has been at that location for as long as I've been here, which is at least 28 years, and I know it's been at that location prior to that," said Mike Von Winckelmann, a microbiologist with the sanitation district.

Von Winckelmann said he looks for indicator bacteria, such as that from fecal matter, when sampling the water.

Anthony Martinez, program manager of the county's environmental water quality program, declined to comment Wednesday, saying he is reviewing Heal the Bay's report.

According to the report, California’s drought appears to be contributing to generally strong beach water quality statewide.
“With record low rainfall reducing the amount of polluted runoff funneled into our seas, beach grades across the state are consistently outperforming their five-year average,” the report states.

To see the full report card, visit healthebay.org.

Staff writer Kristina Pritchett contributed to this report.
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