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Category: Beach Report Card

Our 30th Anniversary of the annual Beach Report Card:

Thirty years ago people were getting sick from going in the ocean, and there was no way for them to know when or where they were at risk. Heal the Bay introduced the Beach Report Card in 1990-1991, a tool to help keep the public safe at the beach. It is also a powerful resource used to advocate for water quality policies and improvement projects.

Thirty years later, Heal the Bay is stoked to release the 30th annual Beach Report Card, because a day at the beach shouldn’t make anyone sick. This report assigns A-to-F letter grades for more than 500 California beaches, based on levels of bacterial pollution in the ocean.

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

  • California beach water quality improved in 2019-2020, driven in large part by decreased rainfall. Rainfall across coastal counties in California was 12 percentage points lower than the historical average. Less rain means fewer pollutants, including bacteria, were flushed through storm drains and rivers into the ocean. Because of this pollutant flushing, only 65% of CA beaches received good or excellent grades during wet weather.
  • The notorious Beach Bummer list—a ranking of the ten most polluted beaches in the state—includes six bacteria-impaired beaches within San Mateo County. This is an unusually high number of beach bummers for a single county. The remaining four beach bummers are located in Southern California and are frequent pollution offenders. (View the Beach Bummers of 2020.)
  • While scientists remain deeply concerned about water quality issues, there is some good news for beachgoers. 92% of the 500 California beaches monitored by Heal the Bay received an A or B grade for the summer season. During dry weather in the winter season, 91% of beaches received an A or B grade, which was slightly better than average. (Go to pages 5-6 of the report for the full Executive Summary.)
  • Overall, 42 out of more than 500 monitored California beaches made it on Heal the Bay’s coveted Honor Roll this year, which is higher than last year (33) and the year before (37) likely due to lower than average rainfall. To make it on the Honor Roll the beach must be monitored year-round and score perfect A+ water quality grades each week in all seasons and weather conditions. Most beaches on the Honor Roll are in Southern California because many counties in Central California and Northern California do not sample frequently enough during the winter months. (For the full Honor Roll list, see pages 14-15 of the report.)
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has upended daily life around the world and has devastated households and communities. We must continue to practice physical distancing and other health and safety procedures, and to keep in mind that a large percentage of people can spread the virus without showing symptoms. The closure of beaches in many locations due to COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of beaches in our lives as open spaces for recreation, relaxation, exploration, and places to gather. But, COVID-19 has also exposed major systemic failures; open spaces, including beaches, are not equally accessible to all people and the public health impacts of health crises as well as poor water and air quality are not shared equally across communities. Low-income communities of color tend to be the most burdened and vulnerable communities, bearing the brunt of environmental and economic impacts. As we plan for the future post-COVID-19, we can and must do better to protect everyone. (Learn more on page 49.)
  • Heal the Bay is expanding the Beach Report Card to include three beaches in Tijuana, Mexico: El Faro, El Vigia, and Playa Blanca. These popular beaches in Mexico, along with Imperial Beach in California, US, are impacted by millions of gallons of raw sewage that flow into the ocean through the Tijuana River. As a result, the public is at a greater risk for getting ill and local beaches are often closed for months on end. Heal the Bay is partnering with Proyecto Fronterizo de Educación Ambiental to help spread awareness about water quality in Tijuana. Margarita Diaz, Director of Proyecto Fronterizo de Educación Ambiental, says “Showing the integration of what is happening on both the US and Mexican portion of our watershed is a long overdue requirement for understanding environmental health issues—particularly as they relate to water quality in our shared watershed—given that they are intrinsically connected.” (Learn more on page 50.)

Tips for staying 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
  • Wear a mask when not in the water and remain at least 6 -feet away from people not from your household at all times
  • Follow all local health and safety regulations, and check in with the lifeguard on duty for more information about the best places to swim

In analyzing the last thirty years of water quality data, one major finding we uncovered in California was the number of beach and coastal access days the public lost out on due to bacterial-pollution risks.

There have been 66,605 bacterial-pollution exceedance events at California beaches in the last 30 years (Summer Dry, Winter Dry, Wet Weather combined). That’s an average of 2,220 exceedance events per year in California. We estimate the bacterial pollution issue has resulted in 132,130 to 396,390 beach advisory days where the public has not been allowed to access the beach. See pages 22-27 to view an outline of the major policies that the Beach Report Card has influenced over the years as well as whether or not water quality has improved over time.

Download the Report

Download the Executive Summary En Español

Download the Press Release

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 2019), winter dry weather (November 2019 through March 2020) 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.

In addition to providing weekly water quality grades for 500 beaches statewide, Heal the Bay scientists continue to expand NowCast, a daily water quality predictive service at 20 popular beaches in California. Using sophisticated machine learning, environmental science data, modeling, and past bacteria samples, Heal the Bay accurately predicts when beaches should post warning signs because of potential bacterial pollution. This new approach enhances public health protections 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 from SIMA Environmental Fund, Swain Barber Foundation, and Sony Pictures Entertainment.

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 2019-20 annual Beach Report Card is available to download at  https://healthebay.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Report-2020_web.pdf


VIEW A RECORDING OF OUR LIVE CONFERENCE

Heal the Bay hosted a live conference on June 30 at Noon to reveal this year’s annual Beach Report Card findings. Speakers included: Dr. Shelley Luce, President and CEO at Heal the Bay, Luke Ginger, Water Quality Scientist at Heal the Bay, Frankie Orrala, Angler Outreach Program Manager at Heal the Bay, and Laurie Silvan, Director of the Board for Proyecto Fronterizo de Educación Ambiental (PFEA). View recording: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/2147380701854201099



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, 92% 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 2019-2020 Beach Bummers List, a ranking of the ten most polluted beaches in the state based on levels of harmful bacteria. This year, six of the ten Beach Bummers are from San Mateo County and the remaining four are in Southern California.

The Beach Bummers of 2020

  1. No. 1 – Fitzgerald Marine Reserve at San Vicente Creek Outlet (San Mateo County) Fitzgerald Marine Reserve has never appeared on the Beach Bummer list before. The beach generally has good summer water quality, but is impacted by dry weather runoff from San Vicente Creek. This beach is one of six San Mateo County Beach Bummers this year, which is unprecedented for one county.
  2. No. 2 – Poche Beach at Creek Outlet (Orange County) Poche Beach is no stranger to the Beach Bummer list, appearing on the list in 2018, 2013, 2012, and 2011. The beach is impacted by the Prima Deshecha Cañada storm drain (referred to as Poche Creek), which carries pollution into the ocean even during dry weather from the Dana Point area.
  3. No. 3 – Pillar Point Harbor at Capistrano Avenue (San Mateo County) Pillar Point Harbor at Capistrano Avenue is one of three Pillar Point Harbor Beach Bummers this year. There are several storm drains that carry pollutants into the harbor in dry weather, and the seawalls around the harbor prevent pollutants from getting flushed away.
  4. No. 4 – Foster City, Erckenbrack Park (San Mateo County) Erckenbrack Park is a first time Beach Bummer; however, this area of the San Francisco Bay has had a known record of poor water quality. This beach lies within an engineered patchwork of enclosed channels that are impacted by dry weather runoff from the surrounding residential and commercial developments.
  5. No. 5 – Topanga Beach at Creek Outlet (Los Angeles County) A 2014 study found Topanga Lagoon as the likely source of bacteria pollution at Topanga Beach. The lagoon sees high amounts of bird and dog fecal matter. When breached, the fecal matter flows into the ocean resulting in high bacteria concentrations. Planning for a lagoon restoration is underway and could mitigate poor water quality.
  6. No. 6 – Pillar Point Harbor Beach (San Mateo County) Pillar Point Harbor Beach is the second of three Beach Bummers contained within the Pillar Point Harbor. Unfortunately, it appears that the entire harbor was more polluted than normal this past year.
  7. No. 7 – Linda Mar Beach at San Pedro Creek (San Mateo County) Linda Mar Beach is making its third consecutive appearance on the Beach Bummer list this year, and is one of six San Mateo County Bummers. This beach is impacted by runoff during dry weather, which flows untreated into the ocean through San Pedro Creek.
  8. No. 8 – Mission Bay, Vacation Isle North Cove (San Diego County) Vacation Isle North Cove is an enclosed beach in Mission Bay that is impacted by dry weather runoff from the surrounding commercial and residential developments. Pollutants are not easily flushed away from this enclosed beach, which is located within a deep cove.
  9. No. 9 – San Clemente Pier (Orange County) San Clemente Pier is making its second consecutive appearance on the Beach Bummer list and is one of two Orange County Beach Bummers this year. This beach is impacted by untreated dry weather runoff that flows into the ocean through a storm drain.
  10. No. 10 – Pillar Point Harbor at Westpoint Avenue (San Mateo County) Rounding out the Beach Bummer list is Pillar Point Harbor at Westpoint Avenue, which is the third Pillar Point Harbor Beach Bummer and one of six San Mateo County Beach Bummers this year. Untreated dry weather runoff appears to be causing significant water quality problems in this enclosed harbor.

For a detailed look at beach results by location, why some beaches are more vulnerable to higher levels of pollution, and more information about the Beach Bummers (pages 16-18), refer to our complete annual Beach Report Card 2019-20

Polluted ocean waters are a significant health risk to beachgoers. We encourage all beachgoers to check the Beach Report Card when planning a trip to the ocean! Because a day at the beach shouldn’t make anyone sick.

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. 

See more highlights from this year’s report.



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

Aerial View of San Clemente Coast and Pier Path-1 Linda Mar Beach_city of pacifica Drone view on Long Beach, USA Cowell Flow Suzanne Healy Monarch MDR Mother's Beach cabrillo-beach-harborside_LA Parks and Rec Keller Beach Document-1
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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.