2010-2011 Annual Beach Report Card

Heal the Bay’s 21st Annual Beach Report Card® provides water quality information to the millions of people who swim, surf or dive in California, Oregon and Washington coastal waters. This is the first annual report to cover the entire West Coast, with the debut of beach water quality grades from our northern neighbors, Oregon and Washington.

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The 2011 Annual Beach Report Card incorporates more than 150 additional monitoring locations along the coasts of Washington and Oregon. Essential reading for ocean users, the report card grades approximately 600 locations along the West Coast for summer dry weather and more than 324 locations year-round on an A-to-F scale based on the risk of adverse health effects to beachgoers. The grades are based on fecal bacteria pollution concentrations in the surf zone. The program has evolved from an annual review of beaches in the Santa Monica Bay to weekly updates of beach monitoring locations throughout California, Oregon and Washington. All of this information is available on this website, www.healthebay.org, and the online Beach Report Card microsite at www.beachreportcard.org.

Recreating in waters with increased bacteria concentrations has been associated with increased risks to human health, such as stomach flu, nausea, skin rashes, eye infections and respiratory illness. Beach water quality monitoring agencies collect and analyze samples, then post the necessary health warnings to protect public health. Poor water quality not only directly threatens the health of swimmers and beachgoers, but is also directly linked to ocean-dependent economies.

Ocean water quality monitoring is vital to ensuring the health protection of the millions who recreate in coastal waters. Since the Annual Beach Report Card was first published more than twenty years ago, beachgoers throughout California have come to rely on the grades as vital public health protection tools. Now, residents and visitors of Oregon and Washington beaches will have the same critical information at their fingertips.

West Coast Beach Water Quality Overview

Most California beaches had very good to excellent water quality this past year, with 400 of 445 (90%) locations receiving very good to excellent (A and B) grades during the summer dry time period (California’s AB411 mandated monitoring from April to October). Year-round dry weather grades were also very good, with 284 of 324 (88%) locations earning A or B grades. Lower grades during year-round dry weather included 12 Cs (4%), 12 Ds (4%) and 16 Fs (5%).

Southern California (Santa Barbara through San Diego counties) summer dry (AB411) weather grades (91% A and B grades) were actually slightly better than the state average. In the San Francisco Bay Area (Marin through San Mateo counties), the summer dry weather ocean-side grades were excellent with 95% (40 of 42) of locations receiving an A or B grade. The bay-side’s water quality slipped slightly with 73% (19 of 26) A or B grades compared to 81% (21 of 26) last year. 60% (41 of 68) of these Bay Area locations were monitored frequently enough to earn year-round grades. Year-round dry weather water quality on the ocean-side was good, with 90% (18 of 20) of the monitoring locations receiving an A or B grade. It was fair on the bay-side with 67% (14 of 21) locations receiving A or B grades.

The disparity between dry and wet weather water quality continues to be dramatic, thereby demonstrating that California is not successfully reducing stormwater runoff pollution. This year’s (April 2010 – March 2011) report shows 46% of the 324 statewide locations monitored during wet weather received fair to poor (C–F) grades. In Southern California, 50% of sampling locations earned fair to poor wet weather grades. Despite higher than normal precipitation levels this past year, wet weather grades were slightly better than the seven-year average (years since new methodology implementation) for both Southern California and statewide.

While 60 locations were monitored throughout the summer in Oregon, only 13 were monitored frequently enough (at least weekly) to be considered for this report. All of Oregon’s 13 regularly monitored locations received A grades. Washington monitoring locations were also typically clean, with 93% of the 141 monitored receiving A and B grades.

California’s Dry Weather Honor Roll

Sixty-eight of the 324 beaches (21%) with year-round dry weather grades this year scored a perfect A+. These beaches had zero exceedances of state bacterial standards for ocean water quality during dry weather throughout the entire time frame of this report. These beaches demonstrated that superb water quality can be found in areas impacted by wildlife, but without anthropogenic sources of fecal bacteria. Heal the Bay proudly places these beaches on the 2010-2011 Beach Report Card Honor Roll. (A list of these locations can be found in the full report, Appendix B on Page 78.)

California Beach Bummers

Numerous California beaches vied for the Beach Bummer crown this year (the monitoring location with the poorest dry weather water quality). Four of the 10 most polluted beaches in the state were in Los Angeles County. Though most of these beaches are no strangers to the Beach Bummer list, Topanga State Beach made its first appearance since 2005-2006

Top 10 Beach Bummers (each location links to the online Beach Report Card)

  1. Cowell Beach – at the wharf (Santa Cruz County)
  2. Avalon Harbor Beach – Catalina Island (L.A. County)
  3. Cabrillo Beach – harborside (Los Angeles County)
  4. Topanga State Beach – at creek mouth (L.A. County)
  5. Poche Beach (Orange County)
  6. North Beach/Doheny (Orange County)
  7. Arroyo Burro Beach (Santa Barbara County)
  8. Baker Beach – at Lobos Creek (San Francisco County)
  9. Colorado Lagoon (Los Angeles County)
  10. Capitola Beach – west of the jetty (Santa Cruz County)

The data from Santa Barbara County through San Diego County was analyzed to determine whether there were significant differences in water quality based on beach type. As in previous years, water quality at open ocean beaches during year-round dry weather was significantly better than water quality at those beaches located within enclosed bays or harbors, or those impacted by storm drains. 99% of open ocean beaches received an A grade for year-round dry weather compared to 76% at beaches found within an enclosed bay, harbor or marina, and 76% at beaches impacted by a storm drain. The data demonstrate that visitors at open ocean beaches with no pollution source are nearly always swimming in clean water during dry weather.

Funding California’s Beach Monitoring Program

Monitoring efforts have been at risk statewide since then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2008 lineitem veto of nearly $1 million in California beach monitoring funds. Fortunately, some municipalities have temporarily allocated additional local funding in order to provide this invaluable service to the beachgoing public. The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) directed Proposition 13 Clean Beach Initiative (CBI) grant funds to backfill the beach monitoring funds from July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2010. In addition, federal American Recovery and Reinstatement Act (ARRA) stimulus funds were approved to cover the monitoring season through 2010. On Nov. 2, 2010, the SWRCB approved a resolution to commit $984,000 from available funds, Proposition 13 or 50, to continue the state’s beach monitoring program through the end of 2011. The SWRCB has been working with members of the Beach Water Quality Group in order to explore options for sustainable, long-term funding; as the state cannot afford to fund any of the beach monitoring program after 2011.

There is no secured state source of funding for beach monitoring in 2012 and current federal Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act funding to California (about $500,000) is woefully inadequate. A protective beach monitoring program would cost about $2 million a year for conventional analytical methods, and approximately $3 million a year if rapid methods are used at California’s most polluted beaches. Heal the Bay will continue working with the state and local governments throughout California to ensure that future funding is secured.

Although beach water quality monitoring funding has seen cutbacks before (state funding was reduced by 10% in 2007), the complete elimination of state funding in 2008 by Gov. Schwarzenegger sent a message from Sacramento to the oceangoing public that its health is not a priority. It is imperative that government officials, county and state health departments, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) strive towards a long term solution that will permanently restore funding to counties’ beach and bay water quality monitoring programs.

We have seen a marked and steady decline in the number of beaches monitored throughout California as a direct result of this funding uncertainty. Seventy-two beaches were not monitored during the summer dry (AB411) period and 47 were not monitored year-round compared to before 2008. This is equivalent to 2,770 fewer samples taken year-round compared to before 2008. Continued efforts must be made to ensure that adequate and sustainable funding becomes available for beach water quality monitoring immediately.

General Observations

Children play directly in front of storm drains and in runoff-filled ponds and lagoons. Monitoring at ‘point-zero’ (the mouth of storm drains or creeks) is the best way to ensure that the health risks to swimmers are minimized.

This is one recommendation among several that Heal the Bay has made to state officials to improve water quality monitoring and better protect public health. (A complete list of recommendations can be found at the end of the full report, page 68.)

The Beach Report Card is based on the routine monitoring of beaches conducted by local health agencies and dischargers. Water samples are analyzed for bacteria that indicate pollution from numerous sources, including fecal waste. The better the grade a beach receives, the lower the risk of illness to ocean users. The report is not designed to measure the amount of trash or toxins found at beaches. The Beach Report Card would not be possible without the cooperation of all of the shoreline monitoring agencies in California, Oregon and Washington.

Heal the Bay believes that the public has the right to know the water quality at their favorite beaches and is proud to provide West Coast residents and visitors with this information in an easy-to-understand format. We hope that beachgoers will use this information to make the decisions necessary to protect their health.

Health officials and Heal the Bay recommend that beach users never swim within 100 yards on either side of a flowing storm drain, in any coastal waters during a rainstorm, and for at least three days after a storm has ended. Storm drain runoff is the greatest source of pollution to local beaches, flowing untreated to the coast and often contaminated with motor oil, animal waste, pesticides, yard waste and trash. After a rain, indicator bacteria densities often far exceed state health criteria for recreational water use.


A special thank you to to the following for their continued support in funding the
Beach Report Card program and the publication of the 2010-2011 annual report:

The Diller – von Furstenberg Family Foundation logo

simplehuman logo

LAcarGuy logo

SIMA logo

Grousbeck Family Foundation