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SoCal beach water quality's up, but LA County still has 3 of California's most polluted beaches

File: Swimmers enjoy waters of Pacific near the famous Santa Monica Pier on Aug. 20, 2013.
Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images
File: Swimmers enjoy waters of Pacific near the famous Santa Monica Pier on Aug. 20, 2013.

Water quality at Southern California beaches is improving, according to Heal The Bay. The environmental nonprofit released its 2016 Beach Report Card on Thursday, giving A to F scores to 456 beaches up and down the California coast.

One thing that actually helps beach pollution: the drought. Less rain means less runoff, which means less pollution, Heal The Bay beach water quality scientist Leslie Griffin told KPCC. Nearly 40 percent of beaches get an F grade during wet weather.

There's another way that drought helps, Griffin told KPCC: It has made people more aware of how they use water, especially around their house, so they are less likely to waste water and allow it to flow down storm drains.

"People have been better about conserving water when it comes to overwatering their lawns or washing their cars in their driveways," Griffin told KPCC.

The report also includes Heal The Bay's "Beach Bummer List," ranking the 10 most polluted beaches in the state. That list includes the Santa Monica Pier, which came in fifth place, which the organization notes is the new destination for thousands of beachgoers each weekend thanks to the Expo Line extension. Still, they note that a new wet-weather storm drain inversion project may help improve water quality.

Other spots called out in a press release from L.A. County and Orange County include:

  • Mother's Beach in Marina Del Rey: The organization says mothers may love the lack of waves at this enclosed beach, but that the lack of circulation in the water effectively makes the water there a Petri dish — it ranked sixth on the most polluted list
  • Redondo Pier: Discharges from the Hyperion sewage treatment plant may have contributed to this beach's ranking, according to Heal The Bay. The beach, 100 yards south of the pier, came in seventh
  • Monarch Beach in Dana Point: This beach services a nearby Ritz Carlton. "Zero star beach for Five-Star Luxury Resort," Heal The Bay's statement reads. The Orange County beach came in fourth place and is near one of the county's best surf spots; the organization notes that runoff that enters via Salt Creek is treated in an on-site ozone treatment facility, but that bacterial issues persist, so they recommend swimming at least 100 yards away from Salt Creek — this is the Orange County beach's first time on the list, Griffin told KPCC

L.A. County leads California in the number of beaches with poor water quality, according to Heal The Bay. They say that 22 beaches statewide received grades of C or lower during the summer — and that swimming at one of these beaches greatly increases the risk of contracting diseases like stomach flu, ear infections, upper respiratory infections and rashes.
"A day at the beach shouldn't make anyone sick," Griffin said in a release.

A UCLA study said that the public health cost of gastrointestinal illnesses caused by using polluted ocean water for recreation is at least $21 million each year in L.A. and Orange counties.

It's not all bad news, though — several L.A. beaches scored A+ grades, making the Heal The Bay "Honor Roll," out of the 88 L.A. County beaches graded by the organization. To make that list, beaches have to be found free of high levels of bacteria throughout the year, during wet or dry weather, Griffin told KPCC.

Also, 92 percent of L.A. County's beaches received either an A or B grade for the summer rating period (recorded between April and October 2015). Orange County had 12 beaches on the "honor roll." Ventura County had three.

L.A. County beaches that made the "honor roll" include three from Rancho Palos Verdes. They are:

  • El Matador State Beach at Encinal Canyon
  • Escondido State Beach just east of Escondido Creek
  • Long Point in Rancho Palos Verdes
  • Abalone Cove Shoreline Park in Rancho Palos Verdes
  • Portuguese Bend Cove in Rancho Palos Verdes

Those beaches aren't among the county's most popular, which may contribute to helping them stay so clean.
"These beaches are beaches that don't have large storm drains pumping polluted water into their area, so they're a little bit more protected, and because of that, they don't have as many sources of pollution, and they tend to keep clean water quality throughout the year," Griffin told KPCC.

Orange County ranked better than L.A. County: 94 percent of the 114 beaches monitored by the organization scored A grades — that's 3 percent better than its five-year summer average. Ventura County showed some of the best water quality in the state, with perfect A grades at all 40 of the beaches the organization monitors for a third straight year.

Heal The Bay also said that California's overall water quality during the summer was excellent, with 95 percent of the 456 beaches it monitors receiving either A or B grades, which is on par with last year.

Heal the Bay advises swimmers to stay at least 100 yards away from flowing storm drains and piers. They advise to avoid enclosed beaches and creek mouths. They also suggest that swimmers wait at least three days after rain before entering the ocean.

You can also check out to get the latest grades for any California beach, with nearly 600 beaches updated weekly — every Friday. Griffin said that A water is great, so you won't get sick from that water.

The organization said in a press release that it's expanding a pilot program to predict water quality, working with UCLA and Stanford researchers. They say they will be publishing predictive grades for Santa Monica and Long Beach based on statistical models.

Heal The Bay is advocating for public funding to build projects to capture, cleanse and reuse runoff instead of having it flow out to the ocean.

"The adage of 'reduce, reuse and recycle' applies completely to water. It's not just for solid waste. We really urge everyone to use every drop of water twice. I mean, capture your rain, use that to water your gardens, don't overwater your lawn, don't water your lawn in the middle of the day too — that's a giant waste. Really make sure that when you're using water, you're using it effectively and wisely," Griffin said.

Griffin also made a plea that dog owners  pick up after their pets.

"If you leave anything behind, that's going to make its way down the watershed and out to the ocean the next time you go swimming," Griffin said.

Read the full report here:

Heal The Bay Beach Report Card