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.
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