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Category: Beach Report Card

Every year, Heal the Bay staff scientists assign A-to-F letter grades to beaches all along the California coast. These grades are based on bacteria pollution and help inform public health. This year, 94% of 500 California beaches received an A or B grade for the busy summer season. However, several beaches are on our list of no-goes.

We’re announcing our 2018-2019 Beach Bummers List, a ranking of the 10 most polluted beaches in the state based on levels of harmful bacteria. This year, 5 of the 10 Beach Bummers are from Southern California, including Cabrillo Beach (harborside) and Marina del Rey Mother’s Beach in L.A. County.

Polluted ocean waters are a significant health risk to beach-goers. We encourage all beach-goers to use this list (and our Beach Report Card) when planning a trip to the ocean! Because a day at the beach shouldn’t make anyone sick.

Read the Beach Report Card highlights

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5. Cowell Beach, Santa Cruz County (Photo Credit: Suzanne Healy)

How to stay safe at the beach

  • Check beachreportcard.org for latest water quality grades (available on iOS & Android)
  • Avoid shallow, enclosed beaches with poor water circulation
  • Swim at least 100 yards away from flowing storm drains, creeks, and piers
  • Stay out of the water for at least 72-hours after a rain event

Coming into contact with beach water that has a grade of C or lower greatly increases the risk of contracting illnesses such as stomach flu, ear infections, upper respiratory infections, and rashes. For a detailed look at beach results by location, why some beaches are more vulnerable to higher levels of pollution, and more information, refer to our complete report.

Read the full Beach Report Card

Read the summary en Español



Heal the Bay is stoked to release the 29th annual Beach Report Card, because a day at the beach shouldn’t make anyone sick. This report assigns A-to-F letter grades for 500 California beaches, based on weekly levels of bacterial pollution in the ocean.

So, what did our staff scientists find? Here are our major takeaways:

  • California beach water quality sagged in 2018-19, driven in large part by increased rainfall. California often swings from extended dry periods to shorter periods of intense, wet weather. When rains do increase, as we saw in the 2018-2019 winter season, the State of California needs to do a better job of capturing, treating, and reusing runoff so it can be a resource, not a nuisance.
  • More rain means more bacteria-ridden runoff carried to the sea via the stormdrain system. Accordingly, bacterial pollution at our local beaches dipped dramatically in 2018-2019. Only 54% of the beaches received an A or B grade during wet weather, which is an eight percentage point decrease from the state’s five-year average.
  • In a positive sign, Some 94% of the beaches monitored in Southern California earned A grades during the busy summer season.
  • Overall, 33 California beaches made it on Heal the Bay’s coveted Honor Roll this year, which is lower than last year (37) likely due to higher than average rainfall. To make it on the Honor Roll the beach must be monitored year-round and score perfect A+ grades each week in all seasons and weather conditions. You can see the full list on page 12 of the report.
  • San Clemente Pier in Orange County has the dubious honor of holding the top spot on our Beach Bummer List this year. For the full list, please see page 16 of the report.
  • Northern California beaches had excellent summer water quality on par with its five-year average of 94% A’s and B’s. Clam Beach in Humboldt County is the only NorCal beach on the Beach Bummer List. No NorCal beaches made the Honor Roll.
  • Central California beaches (which includes San Francisco County) had great water quality during summer months with 92% of its beaches earning an A or B grade. Linda Mar Beach and Aquatic Park in San Mateo County are on the Beach Bummer List along with Cowell Beach in Santa Cruz County. Keller Beach South Beach is new to the Beach Bummer List. Five Central Coast beaches made the Honor Roll.
  • Southern California beaches had excellent yet slightly below average grades with 95% of the beaches receiving A’s or B’s for their summer dry grades. Five of the Beach Bummers are from SoCal, including the troubled Cabrillo Beach (harborside) and Marina del Rey Mother’s Beach in L.A. County. 28 out of the 33 beaches on the Honor Roll are located in SoCal.
  • We investigated the impact of the Woolsey Fire on Malibu beaches and found that water quality grades decreased dramatically after the fire. Wildfires increase runoff due to vegetation loss and infrastructure damage. As the effects of climate change are realized, we can expect more wildfires and more rainfall across coastal areas of California, which can have a negative impact on water quality and public health if no preventative actions are taken to protect our communities and natural habitats.

How to avoid risky water quality at California beaches:

  • Check beachreportcard.org for latest water quality grades (available on iOS & Android)
  • Avoid shallow, enclosed beaches with poor water circulation
  • Swim at least 100 yards away from flowing storm drains, creeks, and piers
  • Stay out of the water for at least 72-hours after a rain event

You can get a county-by-county, beach-by-beach breakdown in the full report.

Download our press release.

Download the Report

Download the Executive Summary En Español

View the Top 10 Beach Bummers

Donate To Support This Work


About the Beach Report Card with NowCast

The annual Beach Report Card includes an analysis of water quality for three time periods: summer dry season (April through October 2018), winter dry weather (November 2018 through March 2019) and year-round wet weather conditions. The grading methodology is endorsed by the State Water Resources Control Board.

All county health departments in California are required to test beach water quality samples for fecal indicator bacteria at least once a week during the summer season. Many counties also monitor heavily used beaches year-round. Heal the Bay compiles the complex shoreline data, analyzes it, and assigns an easy-to-understand letter grade.

This summer, Heal the Bay scientists will expand NowCast – a daily water quality monitoring service at 20 popular beaches in California – in addition to providing weekly water quality grades for 500 beaches statewide. Using sophisticated machine learning, environmental science data, and past bacteria samples, Heal the Bay accurately predicts each morning when beaches should be posted with warning or open signs because of potential bacterial pollution. These new models will protect public health by providing more advanced water quality information to public health officials and beachgoers.

Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card is made possible through the generous support of SIMA Environmental Fund, Swain Barber Foundation, and Water Foundation.

For a detailed look at beach results by location, why some beach types are more vulnerable to higher levels of pollution, and detailed report methodology, please refer to our complete report. A PDF version of the 2018-19 annual Beach Report Card is available to download at https://healthebay.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/BRC_2019_FINAL2.pdf



Thanks to NowCast, today is a good day for surfers who paddle out in Southern California’s prime wintertime waves and want to stay healthy.

For the first time, Heal the Bay staff scientists are running our NowCast water-quality predictions from December through March for a select few surf breaks.

NowCast predictions are the best water quality information available for beaches in California. They are made using machine-learning models, based on the most recent environmental conditions, and publicly available every single morning. By checking NowCast predictions before they go out, ocean users can reduce their risk of getting sick from polluted water.

NowCast predictions are now available each day by 7 a.m. for these very popular surf breaks:

  • Venice Breakwater
  • Manhattan Beach (near 28th Street)
  • Redondo Breakwater
  • Huntington Beach (near Beach Boulevard)
  • Santa Ana River Jetties

We want people to catch a wave, not the stomach flu. You can find NowCast predictions on our Beach Report Card website and mobile app.

We have been running NowCast successfully for beaches in the summer months since 2015, predicting water quality before swimmers hit the shore. Last summer, we provided daily forecasts of predicted water quality for 20 beaches.

If you aren’t familiar with our NowCast system, here’s an FAQ about how we are continuing to improve water quality monitoring at California beaches.

What is the NowCast system?

The NowCast system provides information similar to a daily weather forecast, but this tool predicts good or poor water quality for the day at select beaches across California. NowCast predictions are made by statistical computer models that are calibrated on years of environmental and bacteria data to accurately estimate fecal bacteria levels in the surf zone.

Fecal bacteria levels can be affected by many environmental factors such as rainfall, tide levels, solar radiation, wind, and wave action. Water quality can even be affected by human-made factors such a stormdrain flow and the presence of piers or jetties. Because the effects of these factors on water quality varies from beach to beach, site-specific NowCast models are developed for individual beaches.

Predictions are made each morning by running the models using up-to-date environmental information, and are released by 7 a.m. When a model estimates that bacteria levels at a beach comply with the health standards, the NowCast result is shown as “Good”; however, if a model estimates that bacteria levels exceed health standards, the NowCast result is shown as “Poor.”

Why is the NowCast system important?

Currently, local health agencies use laboratory analyses of water samples collected at the beach to determine if it is safe for recreational use. Unfortunately, there is a long delay in this approach: It typically takes 24-48 hours to collect the samples, transport them to the lab, and analyze them. Meanwhile, water quality can change with environmental conditions. Additionally, most California beaches are sampled on a weekly basis (although there are some beaches that are monitored more frequently). As a result, health agencies currently rely on data that is days-old to make health protection decisions.

Predictive models like those used in the NowCast system can quickly and accurately provide daily water quality information based on the most recent environmental conditions at the beach. Local health agencies and organizations like Heal the Bay can then make public notifications of poor water quality in the morning before most people arrive at the beach.

Who created the NowCast system?

The NowCast system was created through a collaboration among Heal the Bay, Stanford University, and UCLA. The project is funded by the State Water Resources Control Board, and is supported by local health agencies throughout California. For more in-depth information on the research that went into creating the NowCast system, click here.

Will there be more NowCast beaches in the future?

Most certainly. This is our first season releasing predictions during the winter season, and our plan is to keep growing our winter system each season to more and more locations. We already release predictions during the summer for 20 California beaches, from Humboldt County to San Diego County.

Are NowCast predictions available during rain events?

No. When it rains in California, water quality typically plummets. As a result, beach managers (which include local health agencies and lifeguards) issue rain advisories. These warnings last at least 72 hours, and may not be removed from the beach until after water quality samples show that conditions have returned to safe levels.

Because rain advisories are the most conservative form of public notification, we do not release NowCast predictions when they are active. For information about water quality and rain advisories (and for another spot to check NowCast predictions), check the Los Angeles and Orange County health agency websites.  

 



New rules permit 1 out of 31 people to get sick from swimming at CA beaches

A day at the beach shouldn’t make anyone sick.  So it’s a bit perplexing to Heal the Bay that the state of California has just decided to weaken water-quality protections for the millions of people who visit our shoreline each year.

Last week the State Water Resources Control Board approved new standards for bacteria levels in our coastal and inland waters.  Unfortunately, the board has now decided that it’s acceptable that one person out of every 31 beachgoers become ill with diarrhea, intestinal ailments or skin rashes after a visit to the shore.

Think about that for a minute … if a typically-sized elementary school class goes on a field trip to the beach, it’s now OK for one of those children to later become sick from water contact.

But this isn’t just a theoretical debate. Tens of thousands of people get sick each year swimming at Southern California beaches.  Ocean-borne illnesses cause at least $20 million in health-related costs each year, according to L.A. County health officials.

We’re concerned because these new levels of “allowable” illness undermine public health protection and benefit polluters and dischargers.  The new rules basically endorse bacteria pollution levels set by the U.S. EPA, which had watered-down its own regulations in 2012 to Heal the Bay’s dismay.

California is known for setting stricter environmental standards than federal regulators. Instead of using the EPA as the gold standard for the Golden State, Heal the Bay believes that all standards and acceptable risk levels should be based on research performed along California’s unique coastline and watersheds.

Staff scientists Ryan Searcy and Karen Vu traveled to Sacramento to press this issue with the State Board, which is a branch of the California EPA.  The regulatory body oversees the state’s water quality, drinking water, and water rights programs.

The State Board also oversees Regional Boards, which develop water quality standards and enforces those standards when they are violated, all serving to protect the beneficial uses of the state’s waterways.

During our meetings we also expressed our concern about a provision to create a new inland regulatory designation that could have a major impact on efforts to increase recreation along the L.A. River.

The board has decided to create a new statewide beneficial-use designation for inland waterbodies, to be called Limited REC-1 (LREC-1).  The move may actually lead to efforts to restrict public access to spots along the L.A. River and other urban waterways.

L.A. River signage for water quality

Waterbodies in California that have recreational uses in or near the water are currently labeled either REC-1 or REC-2, depending on whether direct contact with and ingestion of the water will occur.  Depending on the designation, there are different water quality requirements for polluters that are discharging into the waterbodies.  The idea is to compel them to ensure that the beneficial use of the waterbody is maintained.

Under this new provision, a LREC-1 designation refers to waterbodies that are “limited by physical conditions such as very shallow water depth and restricted access and, as a result, ingestion of water is incidental and infrequent.”

Because an LREC-1 designation has less stringent water quality standards than a REC-1, an incentive is created for polluters to restrict public access to a waterbody to achieve a less protective designation.

This type of waterbody designation will have large implications for urban stream restoration efforts, such as those in the L.A. River, where a massive effort is under way to improve and increase public access.

However, we did manage to score a few wins in our trip to Sacramento.

Heal the Bay staff scientists worked with several other NGOs during the past few months and successfully stopped the State from dropping fecal coliform standards in determining ocean water-quality regulations.

The state had initially neglected California-based science that proves that fecal coliform remains a critical indicator of health risk at our beaches.

Fecal coliform is one of three fecal indicator bacteria that are monitored by beach agencies and regulated by the State.  These indicator bacteria aren’t necessarily harmful to humans  themselves, but each of the three are potentially indicative of the presence of pathogens in the water.  They are easier and cheaper to measure than directly measuring for the bugs that harm us.

In California, fecal coliform has been an important indicator of the risk of illness, along with enterococci and total coliform.  Thankfully, regulators agreed to go back and consider this science, and the original fecal coliform standards will remain.

Additionally, the state has also agreed to continue to consider the latest California-specific epidemiological studies to develop and improve appropriate bacteria objectives during future reviews of ocean-bacteria standards.

Some might wonder why the state is acting now to modify long-standing beach water-quality rules.

The board has cited a need to modernize its water quality standards. The last modification occurred in the late 1990s, with the passing of AB411 (which Heal the Bay helped enact).

AB411 mandated weekly monitoring of hundreds of California beaches, and requires beach agencies to post notices if the allowable thresholds are exceeded.  Since then, the EPA adopted new standards in 2012, and a number of relevant epidemiological studies were published in California.  The state made these changes in its standards mostly to align with the EPA, but neglected to consider the relevant epidemiological studies.

You can help us by paying attention to water quality at your favorite beaches and streams.  Fortunately, Heal the Bay has developed some tools for the public to use to do this easily.  Using the Beach Report Card, the NowCast system, and the River Report Card as advocacy tools.

All water-lovers can monitor their favorite swimming spots and raise their voices if they see consistently poor water quality.

You win some and you lose some whenever you travel to Sacramento’s halls of power, as any seasoned policy advocate will tell you.

While we are discouraged by the state’s decision to go lock-step with federal bacteria standards, we promise to keep fighting.  We will continue to support policies that provide the maximum public health protection.



Heal the Bay today released our 28th annual Beach Report Card, which assigns yearly A-to-F water-quality grades for more than 400 beaches statewide based on levels of harmful bacteria.

Our staff scientists put a ton of work into this comprehensive county-by-county survey of pollution along the California shoreline. We encourage you to geek out on all the stats and charts we’ve assembled in the colorful, easy-to-read report.

But if you are short on time, here are the major findings:

  • There’s one silver lining in Southern California’s recent swing back to drought-like conditions – improved beach water quality.
  • Less rain means less bacteria-laden urban runoff carried to the sea via the stormdrain system. Accordingly, bacterial pollution at our local beaches dipped dramatically in 2017-18. Some 95% of the beaches monitored in Southern California earned A grades during the busy summer season, a 5% uptick from the reporting period’s five-year average.
  • In another positive sign, a record 37 beaches in California made the Heal the Bay Honor Roll this year – meaning they are monitored year-round and score perfect A-plus grades each week during all seasons and weather conditions. You can see the full list on page 20 of the report.
  • Northern California beach-water quality sagged slightly in 2017-18, driven in large part by troubled beaches in San Mateo County and Humboldt County.
  • Some 88% of the 96 Northern California beaches monitored by Heal the Bay received an A or B grade for the busy summer season. That figure marks a 3% dip from the region’s five-year summer average.
  • In a somewhat surprising twist, Northern California held seven spots on our infamous Beach Bummer List, a ranking of the top 10 most polluted beaches in the state based on levels of harmful bacteria.
  • Poche Beach (creek mouth) in Orange County has the dubious honor of holding the top spot on our Beach Bummer List this year. For the full list, please see page 16 of the report.
  • You can get a county-by-county, beach-by-beach breakdown in the full report.
  • Download our press releases for Southern California and Northern California.

NowCast program

We’re also expanding our predictive beach water-quality NowCast program this summer, which could be a game-changer for better protecting people at the beach. Using sophisticated statistical models, environmental data, and past bacteria samples, the scientific team can accurately predict each morning what beaches might be impacted by bacterial pollution that day. Knowledge is power! This summer, Heal the Bay will run models for 20 beaches, from San Diego to San Francisco counties, posting predictions each morning on our digital platforms.

New website and mobile app

We’re also stoked to take the wraps off our newly redesigned Beach Report Card website, which allows users to get the latest water-quality grades for their favorite beaches in real-time. We’ve streamlined functionality and incorporated the new data sets from our NowCast program. Our tech team also is readying a new mobile app to launch this summer, just in time for prime beachgoing season. Learn more about what is new.

How to stay safe at the beach

  • Check beachreportcard.org for latest water quality grades
  • Avoid shallow, enclosed beaches, which usually suffer from poor circulation
  • Swim at least 100 yards away from flowing storm drains, creeks and piers

Download the Report

Visit Our New Beach Report Card website

Support This Work



Summer 2017 beach water quality grades are in. Heal the Bay’s Science Policy and Programs team report the latest findings, and encourage you to visit the California coast this fall.

Most of us might think that the hot days of summer beach-going season are over after Labor Day Weekend. However, many local Angelenos and tourists know that some of the best days for ocean lovers are from September through October.

Less people, easier parking, tepid water temperatures, and great weather, all make for a solid outing. In addition, the water quality this past summer has been fantastic at almost all beaches throughout California.

Despite all the rain in the Golden State earlier in the year, 96% of beaches (out of 400 sites) earned an A or B grade. 18 sites (4%) received a grade of C or lower, including 8 sites earning an F.

Find out more detailed water quality information about your favorite beach: download Heal the Bay’s Summer 2017 Beach Report Card for California.

As a reminder, you can always visit Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card website (or get your grades on-the-go and install the Beach Report Card app for iPhone and Android) to get the latest information on all California beach conditions throughout the year. (We publish the Beach Report Card on a weekly basis for the whole year, so can stay informed if you plan on swimming in the ocean beyond October).



Most people view Labor Day weekend as the last celebration of summer and a final opportunity to enjoy a relaxing water adventure either at the beach or the river. A last hurrah before settling into the fall season.  With that in mind, now is a good time to deliver a friendly reminder about water quality when heading to your favorite beach or stream.

First – let’s remember the basic safety tips.

These are some general rules to follow to lower your risk of getting sick when:

Going to the beach

  • Swim at least 100 yards from piers and flowing storm drains.
  • Because of poor circulation, water quality at enclosed beaches and harbors is often poorer than at open beaches.
  • Wait at least 3 days after a rainstorm before diving into the water (and wait at least 5 days before swimming at beaches near storm drains).

Going to the river

  • Do not drink the water.
  • After water contact, rinse off with soap and water.
  • Be aware of your swimming conditions (funny smells, homeless encampments, nearby drainages, posted signs) before entering the water.

Second – knowledge is power.

Heal the Bay has two great, if not awesome, sources of water quality information regardless of whether you are going to the beach or the river. In addition to practicing safe swimming, water enthusiasts should visit Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card to get the latest information on all California beach conditions. (We publish the Beach Report Card on a weekly basis for the whole year, so can stay informed if you plan on swimming in the ocean beyond Labor Day Weekend.)

If you plan to visit a swimming hole in Los Angeles County this coming weekend, then see our River Report Card to see updated water quality information about these swimming holes.

Our motto has always been, and always will be: KNOW BEFORE YOU GO!

Have a great Labor Day Weekend!



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This site is right in front of the luxurious five-star Ritz Carlton resort in Dana Point, but one-star water quality persists in the bird-ridden spot. Local agencies have argued that the meandering portion of Salt Creek has facilitated a greater bird population, and in turn increased the amount of bird feces at this location—ultimately leading to the poor water quality. A falconry program was implemented to reduce bird-related bacterial counts at the mouth of the creek. However, potential harm to federally threatened snowy plovers during their nesting season halted the program—a decision Heal the Bay supported. The City of Dana Point has also invested in an Ozone Treatment Facility to treat dry weather runoff.

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 summer.

But pockets of fecal bacteria still trouble our waters and threaten the health of millions of beachgoers. Here’s our look at the 10 most polluted beaches in the state – our annual Beach Bummer List.

To avoid illness, ocean-goers can check the latest water quality grades at their favorite beaches, based on the latest samples, each week at beachreportcard.org (or download the Beach Report Card app for Apple or Android). For more information, check out our Beach Report Card blog post or read the full report here.



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.



After its second season predicting water quality in California, Heal the Bay’s NowCast program will hibernate until 2017. It’s a fitting moment for reflection by our fabulous beach water quality scientists, Ryan Searcy and Leslie Griffin.

Many would say that there are two distinct seasons in Southern California: summer and not-summer. By this way of thinking, it’s been hard to tell which season we’re currently in. We did see a bit of rain a few weeks ago, and it is certainly brisker in the mornings (hello fall sweaters!). Surf’s up in a way that whispers ever-so-slightly, “winter is coming.” But ocean water temperatures around here are still warm, and there is still plenty of sunshine, perhaps making the date-challenged among us wonder if Labor Day has indeed passed. You California dreamers out there can keep hanging on, but for those of us in the water quality business, the end of the AB411 season means it is officially not-summer.

State Assembly Bill (AB) 411 requires coastal agencies to sample water quality at popular beaches at least once per week from April 1 to October 31, and to notify the public of high concentrations of bacteria in those samples. Water quality samples measure the amount of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) present in the water, organisms that are known to be associated with the presence of harmful human pathogens. If FIB levels are found to be above the prescribed state standards, that beach is required to be posted as hazardous to swimmer health.

Fortunately for us in Southern California, most of our beach agencies sample water quality year-round. But despite increased testing, these water quality samples have a serious draw-back: because bacterial culture methods (FIB tests) take 1-2 days to process, beachgoers never actually know if the water is safe on the day they visit the beach. This is a serious problem, and it is one that we’ve been trying to remedy for many years.

Historically, the Beach Report Card has only been able to report on how water quality has been at a beach according to the week’s bacteria sample data and the geometric mean of a handful of recent samples. It is still a great guide for beachgoers because it provides more information about beach water quality than any other system on the West Coast. But we wanted to make it even better, and that is why we have worked with Stanford University and UCLA to develop the California Water Quality NowCast system.

Our NowCast system uses statistical models to provide daily water quality information during the AB411 season. These models predict the concentration of bacteria in the water every morning, and are derived from years of water quality data and a whole lot of environmental variables that impact bacteria levels. NowCasting helps us answer what we don’t readily know – how much bacteria is likely in the water each morning, and thus if it is safe to swim – by looking at what we do know – what was the weather like yesterday, were there a lot of waves this morning stirring up the water, is the nearby river a’ flowing, etc. All of this data crunching and statistical hog-wrestling boils allows us to predict whether beach bacterial concentrations are likely to be safe or hazardous each morning.

This was our second summer implementing the NowCast program. In 2015, we provided daily predictions for three beaches in Southern California: Arroyo Burro in Santa Barbara, Santa Monica Pier, and Doheny State Beach in Orange County. This year, we added East Beach in Santa Barbara and Belmont Pier in Long Beach to the program, and were able to make over 120 consecutive days of predictions for these five beaches. These predictions were available every morning by 10AM (including weekends) on our Beach Report Card site and mobile app. The beach agencies we worked with also took our results and posted them on their own sites and telephone hotlines.

And now that the Summer 2016 season is over, we are able evaluate our findings and to see how well our models did compared to the ‘current method’ of using days-old samples to make daily beach management decisions.

The first major finding of the season was expected: the drought continues to positively impact beach water quality. Think about it like this: less rain means less runoff which means less bacteria in the waves. And as Californians continue to conserve water, there is less dry-weather runoff from outdoor watering (nice work, by the way!). Every beach in the NowCast program (except at the Santa Monica Pier) recorded water samples that came back under sample limits (the levels of bacteria below which it is reasonably safe to swim), much cleaner than those beaches’ historical trends! This is great news for California beachgoers – they were able to enjoy cleaner than average conditions this summer at the NowCast beaches, something that we were able to inform them of on a daily basis.

However, since beach conditions were so clean, it makes it difficult to see how we would have done at predicting dirty conditions. Except for Santa Monica Pier, there simply were no dirty samples available to do this. While this is a frustrating for those of us who want to look at the statistics, we can find solace in the fact that the models provided daily water quality predictions to the public (rather than weekly, like most sites).

That being said, we did have one site with more issues than the rest: Santa Monica Pier. The Pier has a chronic history of water quality problems. From 2008-2015, it experienced 28% and 10% exceedance rates for fecal coliform and Enterococcus standards respectively (two types of FIB) in the summer months. This season, it exceeded those FIB standards 41% and 10% of the time respectively, despite drought conditions. This suggests that water quality at Santa Monica Pier is especially affected by other factors in addition to rainfall. Because our models consider wave action, wind speed and direction, and tides, the fecal coliform model for Santa Monica Pier was able to predict 71% of actual exceedances, and 17% more exceedances than using days-old samples in the months of July, August, and September. This was the big result that gives us confidence in our models.

However, in October, the models did miss some exceedances at the Pier, highlighting why we reassess and refine our models every year as conditions change at our beaches, and why we try to incorporate new sources of data into the modeling process. For example, we learned that water quality at Santa Monica Pier is affected by nearby storm drain flows and seabird populations, both things that we currently don’t have a good way to get daily data on. In time, we hope to incorporate these factors into our models, creating more robust and accurate predictions.

Looking forward, we’re excited for the California NowCast program to enter its third year. We’ve got a whole bunch of good stuff up next on the menu. For the Summer 2017 season, we are looking to add up to eight new beaches to the program. NowCasting will eventually expand farther along the California coastline, creating a truly statewide program. Winter models at beaches with heavy year-round use are also on our radar (in case you surfers out there were wondering). We’re designing new NowCast beach signage to post on days where water quality is predicted to be poor. And keep an eye out for our groovy new Beach Report Card website and mobile app, an update launching in 2017 that will look and function better than ever, giving beachgoers up to date water quality information on the fly.

When you go to the beach, we want you to catch waves, not a bug, and hopefully our NowCast program helped you do that this summer. Thank you to everyone who used and participated in the NowCast program in 2016, especially our beach agency partners across the state. Enjoy not-summer, and see you next year!