The Annual Beach Report Card 2017 Release

Much-needed winter storms may have relieved California’s historic drought, but all that rain came at some cost – poor beach water quality.

Bacterial pollution at some of California’s most popular beaches spiked dramatically in 2016-17, according to Heal the Bay’s 27th annual Beach Report Card, which the nonprofit released today.

Heal the Bay analysts assigned A-to-F letter grades to 416 beaches along the California coast for three reporting periods in 2016-2017, based on levels of weekly bacterial pollution. Some 96% of beaches received A or B grades during the high-traffic summer season (April-October 2015), slightly above the statewide five-year average.

Wet weather was a different story, however. Record rainfall created billions of gallons of polluted runoff, which poured into storm drains and out to the ocean. Nearly 48% of California’s beaches received C to F grades, about 12% more than the statewide five-year average.

La Jolla Cove, a popular swim spot.

Polluted ocean waters pose a significant health risk to the tens of thousands of year-round ocean users in California. Those failing grades indicate a significant health risk to the tens of thousands of year-round ocean users in Southern California, who can contract a respiratory or gastrointestinal illness from one morning swim or surf session in polluted waters.

Beach Bummers

Heal the Bay’s infamous Beach Bummers List, which ranks the 10 most polluted beaches in the state, was split between Northern and Southern California. San Clemente Pier and La Jolla Cove are both making their first ever appearance on the Beach Bummer’s List. Clam Beach County Park, Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey and Santa Monica Pier have each been Bummers for the past four years. Check out our Beach Bummers Slideshow, which has more details about each of the Bummers.

  1. Clam Beach County Park, McKinleyville (Humboldt County)
  2. San Clemente Pier, San Clemente (Orange County)
  3. Cowell Beach, West of Wharf, Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz County)
  4. Lakeshore Park, Marina Lagoon, San Mateo (San Mateo County)
  5. La Jolla Cove, La Jolla (San Diego County)
  6. Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica (Los Angeles County)
  7. Capitola Beach, Capitola (Santa Cruz County)
  8. Luffenholtz Beach, Trinidad (Humboldt County)
  9. Mother’s Beach, Marina del Rey (Los Angeles County)
  10. Monarch Beach, North of Salt Creek, Dana Point (Orange County)

Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey, a repeat Beach Bummer.

On a more positive note, 32 beaches in the state were named to Heal the Bay’s Honor Roll, meaning they were monitored year-round and received perfect A+ grades weekly, regardless of rain or dry conditions. Orange County boasted the most beaches on the Honor Roll, with 14 sites earning top marks.

Staying Safe at the Beach

“We want people catching waves, not bugs, when they head to the beach,” said Sarah Sikich, Heal the Bay’s vice president and longtime ocean policy advocate. “The reassuring news is that if you swim at an open-ocean beach in the summer away from storm drains and creek mouths you statistically have very little risk of getting ill.”

Swimming or surfing at a beach with a water quality grade of C or lower greatly increases the risk of contracting illnesses such as stomach flu, ear infections, upper respiratory infections and rashes.

Here’s how you can make sure that you stay safe at the beach:

  • Check BeachReportCard.org for the latest water quality grades.
  • Avoid closed beaches
  • Swim at least 100 yards away from flowing storm drains and piers.
  • Wait at least three days after rainfall before entering the ocean.

Baker Beach, San Francisco.

How to Stem the Tide of Bacterial Pollution

California often swings from extended dry periods to shorter periods of intense, wet weather. Our region needs to do a better job of capturing runoff before it hits shorelines. Heal the Bay advocates for reusing that water directly for non-potable purposes or sinking that water back into our aquifers rather than letting it flow uselessly to the sea.

If Southern California cities had the infrastructure in place, then they could have captured and reused a bulk of the 100 billion gallons of stormwater that drenched our region last winter. That’s enough water to meet the needs of 2.5 million people each year – about a quarter of L.A. County’s population.

In response, Heal the Bay’s policy staff is advocating for public funding measures to build nature-based projects that capture, cleanse and reuse runoff rather than dumping it uselessly into the sea. The Our WaterLA coalition is working with the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to place a funding measure on the ballot for innovative multi-benefit projects that will capture runoff and create public green spaces countywide. Look for the measure on the county ballot next year.

Heal the Bay to Forecast Water Quality

This summer Heal the Bay, Stanford University and UCLA are expanding their predictive beach water quality forecasting program. Using sophisticated statistical models, environmental data and past bacteria samples, the scientific team can accurately predict each morning when beaches should be posted with warning or open signs.

Promising results from the past two summers (at Arroyo Burro Beach, Santa Monica Pier Beach and Doheny Beach) demonstrated that agencies can post a warning notice immediately at pollution impacted beaches based on predictions rather than waiting days for test results. These new models will protect public health by providing more advanced water quality information to public health officials. This summer, Heal the Bay will run models for 10 beaches, from San Diego to Santa Cruz counties.