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The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act) signed into law on October 10, 2000, amends the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), incorporating provisions intended to reduce the risk of illness to users of the Nation's recreational waters. The BEACH Act authorizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to award program development and implementation grants to eligible States, Territories, Tribes, and local governments to support microbiological testing and monitoring of coastal recreation waters, including the Great Lakes, that are adjacent to beaches or similar points of access used by the public. BEACH Act grants also provide support for development and implementation of programs to notify the public of the potential exposure to disease-causing microorganisms in coastal recreation waters. EPA encourages coastal States and Territories to apply for BEACH Act Grants for Program Implementation (referred to as Implementation Grants) to implement effective and comprehensive coastal recreation water monitoring and public notification programs. CWA section 406(i) authorizes appropriations of up to $30 million per year to develop and implement beach programs. Unfortunately, only about one-third that amount has been authorized each year since the program's inception. For fiscal year 2014, the total fund available for BEACH Act grants was $9.55 million. Funding beyond 2012 has been in jeopardy, since EPA's budget requests for this program in FY2013 and FY2014 were ZERO (money for testing in 2013 and 2014 was ultimately allocated as part of Continuing Resolutions to resolve the Federal Budget impasse) and there is also no money for beach testing in the FY2015 budget. It is very discouraging to have to fight for this basic funding to protect the public's health at the beach every year. Thankfully, there is a growing movement to provide stable funding. If available, funds are allocated to the states and territories based on a formula which uses three factors that are readily available and verifiable: (1) Length of beach season, (2) miles of beach and (3) number of people that use the beaches. California was eligible for a $491,000 grant in fiscal year 2014.
These funds support only a small portion of California’s beach monitoring program. In addition to the BEACH Act grant monies, the state has historically allocated about $1 million for "AB 411" monitoring from April 1 to October 31, plus another $100,000 for monitoring San Francisco Bay beaches in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, and San Mateo counties. As mentioned below, this state funding was abruptly ended in September 2008 and "stop-gap" funding was then secured for 2009 through 2011, until a new source of funding through the State Water Resources Control Board was identified for 2012 and beyond. Monitoring activities are conducted by county health departments and other entities, who in some jurisdictions spend considerable additional funds on top of what the state and the BEACH Act grant provide.
Portions of the following discussion are taken from NRDC's report Testing the Waters, A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches, June 2014. NRDC's report evaluates beach monitoring data relative to EPA's recommended Beach Action Value (BAV). The BAV is a more protective threshold than the national allowable bacteria levels used in previous years to trigger beach advisories. The EPA considers the BAV to be a "conservative, precautionary tool for making beach notification decisions."
NRDC ranked California 11th in Beachwater Quality (out of 30 states). 9% of samples exceeded EPA's new BAV standards for designated beach areas in 2013.
California has more than 430 beaches along more than 700 miles of coastline on the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. Historically, the California Department of Health Services administered the BEACH Act grant. Starting in 2012, the California State Water Resources Control Board provided $1 million in funding and began administering the state's beach monitoring program. It also administers the BEACH Act grant. Beachgoers can access information about water quality on the state's Is It Safe to Swim in Our Waters? website. However, it's generally more convenient to get beach water quality information from County Health Department websites. See the list and links in the Beach Closures section below.
Beach monitoring requirements in California were established by AB 411 in 1997. Testing under this program began in 1999. A potentially "fatal flaw" in AB 411 is this clause:
The legislature did not appropriate "sufficient funds" during 2009 to through 2011.
In urban areas during dry weather, runoff can occur as a result of landscape irrigation, draining of swimming pools, car washing, and various commercial activities. Along the coast of California, where summers are dry, dry-weather runoff is the most common cause of advisories issued due to elevated bacteria levels. For some parts of Santa Monica Bay, sending dry-weather runoff to sewage treatment plants has improved beachwater quality. In this densely populated area, more than 20 low-flow diversion facilities have been constructed to route dry-weather runoff through sanitary sewage treatment after trash and debris have been screened out. These plants are not able to treat the huge volume of runoff that is generated during storms, but they do have the capacity to treat the relatively smaller volume of dry-weather runoff. Due to these diversion projects and other efforts, water quality has improved at the Santa Monica Canyon monitoring station at Santa Monica State Beach, though challenges remain. At this station, 37% of samples taken from 2006 to 2009 exceeded state standards, but exceedances dropped to 23% in 2010, 22% in 2011, and 10% in 2012.
In 2012, Los Angeles completed the last phase of a $40 million-plus dry-weather runoff diversion project that diverts eight storm drains along the Pacific Coast Highway into a sanitary sewer system and to the Hyperion Treatment Plant.
Currently approved methods for determining levels of fecal indicator bacteria in beachwater depend on growth of bacteria colonies in cultures that take 18 to 96 hours to produce results. Because of this delay, swimmers generally do not know until the at least the next day if the water they swam in was contaminated. The delay also means that beaches may remain closed or posted after water quality has improved.
Fortunately, new technologies that can provide same-day beachwater quality results are now available. During the summer of 2010, a rapid bacterial measurement demonstration project was conducted at nine locations at Huntington State Beach, Newport Beach, and Doheny State Beach, all in Orange County. This demonstration project used quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR), a method that targets genetic sequences found in enterococcus bacteria, allowing public health officials to issue the nation's first-ever same-day warnings for poor beachwater quality by noon on the day water samples were collected. More on this.
The city of Los Angeles undertook a similar project at several Los Angeles County beaches in the summer of 2011. This study was a cooperative effort among the city's Environmental Monitoring Division, the county's Department of Public Health and Department of Public Works, and the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP). Eight sampling stations were included in the project: Inner Cabrillo Beach, Surfrider Beach, Topanga State Beach, Santa Monica Canyon at Santa Monica State Beach, Mothers' Beach, the Ballona Creek outfall at Dockweiler State Beach, Redondo Pier at Redondo Beach, and the Los Angeles River estuary boat launch just north of the Queensway Bridge (this location is not a beach). After reviewing the data from this effort, which showed some disagreement between qPCR results and culture-based results, the project team decided that additional studies needed to be conducted before qPCR results could be used as the basis for same-day water quality notifications at Los Angeles County beaches. Additional studies were completed during the summer of 2012 to help determine the reason for the discrepancies; results have not yet been released.
In March 2012, total maximum daily loads (TMDLs)—which are cleanup blueprints for specified waters—were established for bacteria at beaches in Long Beach and in the Los Angeles River estuary, which meets the ocean in Long Beach. These cleanups will reduce fecal contamination of beaches in Long Beach, protecting the health of tens of thousands of beachgoers each year. Once they are completed, it is expected that the average number of days during the swimming season that beachwater exceeds fecal indicator bacteria standards will be reduced to zero. In 2012, samples taken at beaches in Long Beach exceeded the single-sample standard for enterococcus between 6% and 24% of the time.
Researchers at Stanford University and the environmental group Heal the Bay are currently developing statistical models that will predict beachwater quality. Starting with test models for 25 of California's most polluted beaches, the models will utilize the history of fecal indicator bacteria densities and oceanic and atmospheric data such as water temperature, current direction, and wind speed at each beach. At the sites where models provide an adequate assessment of water quality, swimmers will be notified of the beach's water quality status more rapidly than they would if traditional techniques for measuring fecal bacteria were used. The models will also help to assess pollution trends and will identify the environmental variables with the greatest influence on bacteria concentrations. Researchers are now halfway through this two-year project, and the efficacy of the models to predict water quality will be evaluated this summer and fall.
Although not monitored as part of the BEACH Act, trash and debris can heavily affect California beaches. Waste litters the landscape, and much of it ends up in our oceans where it kills marine life, poses navigational hazards, and impacts local economies and human health. Marine debris includes a range of manmade waste, the vast majority of marine debris is plastic.
The California State Water Resources Control Board is developing amendments to statewide water quality control plans (Trash Amendments) to reduce trash pollution at California beaches. Currently, they are meeting with stakeholders and preparing a draft staff report and a Substitute Environmental Document (SED) for the Trash Amendments. The draft staff report and SED will be released for public review and comment this summer. This policy would build upon experience with the trash clean up plans established in Los Angeles, and it would identify trash as a separate pollutant to be controlled statewide. In its current Strategic Plan, the California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) has prioritized activities to reduce the source of marine debris, especially plastic waste. OPC and the Water Board are also beginning to coordinate with CalRecycle to enhance waste management and recycling activities that play an important part in controlling marine litter.
Sampling Practices: Beachwater quality monitoring in California occurs from no later than April 1 until October 31, with most beaches in Southern California and in Santa Cruz, San Mateo, and San Francisco Counties monitored year-round. Statewide, more than 25,000 samples were collected in 2013.
Some counties in California conduct beachwater quality monitoring and issue advisories year-round; these include Alameda, Contra Costa, Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Ventura, San Luis Obispo and Ventura. Therefore, the data provided in NRDC's analysis for these counties reflects wet weather and winter monitoring at numerous sites affected by urban runoff, which results in additional exceedances and longer postings when compared with most other jurisdictions. Year-round monitoring and posting is a good environmental and public-health practice that increases the level of protection to those who visit beaches where body-contact recreational water use occurs throughout the year.
Individual counties determine sampling locations, but sampling depth and minimum sampling frequency are determined by state law. Most counties sample at more locations and often more frequently than required by state law. Samples are taken in ankle-deep water. Monitoring locations in California are selected on the basis of the number of visitors, the location of storm drains, discharge permit requirements to sample at particular places, and legislative requirements (for instance, legislation requires the monitoring of all beaches with a flowing storm drain and at least 50,000 visitors annually). The vast majority of beach day use in California occurs at monitored beaches.
Samples are usually collected in areas where possible contamination is most likely. In Los Angeles County, for example, sampling points are located where creeks or storm drains enter the surf zone; these are usually permanently posted as being under advisory. Other counties may permanently post outfalls and sample 25 yards up or down the coast from the outfall to predict further impacts to beach bathing areas.
Immediate resampling is often conducted after a bacteria advisory (a posting) is issued in order to lift the posting as soon as possible. States that monitor more frequently after an exceedance is found will tend to have higher percent exceedance rates and lower total closing/advisory days than they would if their sampling frequency did not increase after an exceedance was found.
Standards and Procedures: Local health agencies are responsible for issuing beachwater quality advisories and closures. There are four types of beachwater quality warnings issued: postings, rain advisories, permanent postings, and closings. Postings that warn swimmers about the potential for illness are issued when a water sample fails to meet bacterial standards. Rain advisories warn people to avoid swimming in ocean waters during a rain event and for three days after rainfall ceases. Permanent postings are made at sites where historic data show that the beachwater generally contains elevated bacteria levels. Beach closings are generally issued due to sewage spills or other serious health hazards, but local health officials may also decide to close a beach when more than one standard is exceeded or when exceedances are far in excess of the standards. This is rare, however, and closings generally are issued only when it is suspected that sewage is affecting a beach. Beachgoers can access information about water quality on the California State Water Board's Is It Safe to Swim? website.
California employs a variety of bacterial standards:
Almost all counties monitor for all three organisms (total coliform, fecal coliform, and enterococcus). Some beach management entities, including Los Angeles and Orange Counties and the city of Long Beach, post a beach when the single-sample standard of any one of these three indicators is exceeded. In Marin County, beaches are posted if either the enterococcus or fecal coliform standard is exceeded, but not when only the total coliform standard is exceeded.
In San Francisco County, the single-sample standard for total coliform is 10,000 cfu/100 ml regardless of the ratio of fecal coliform to total coliform, and some beaches require confirmation, either from elevated results at nearby sites, from exceedances of more than one standard, or from resampling, before a beach is posted. Geometric mean standards are sometimes used to keep a beach posted after the single-sample maximum has been exceeded but rarely trigger a posting by themselves. If geometric mean standards are exceeded, the state recommends that additional sanitary surveys, more frequent sampling, and additional related evaluations be conducted. Unless adjacent sampling stations exceed water quality standards, notifications are issued for the portion of the beach that extends 50 yards in either direction of the sampling location where an exceedance is found. After a posting is issued, samples must meet standards for two days before the beach can be reopened.
Since 2003, San Diego County has used a predictive model to trigger beach closings at three south county beaches near the outlet of the Tijuana River. These beaches are Imperial Beach, Coronado Beach, and Silver Strand State Beach. The model assesses the need for closures based on real-time information about ocean currents and other parameters. Use of the model allows the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health to make more accurate and timely notifications to protect the health of beachgoers.
In addition to advisories triggered by indicator exceedances, three-day-long preemptive rain advisories are automatically issued in five counties (Los Angeles, Monterey, Orange, San Diego, and Santa Cruz) when rainfall exceeds predetermined levels, regardless of bacterial monitoring. These general advisories affect all beaches in the county. As a general rule, the Los Angeles County Recreational Waters Program issues a rain advisory when there is 0.1 inch or more of rainfall at the University of Southern California rain gauge, but this varies depending on factors such as how long it has been since the last rainfall, how sporadic the rainfall is, and where it is falling. According to the program, much of the watershed that feeds storm drain flow is in the hills and mountains, where rainfall levels differ from those at the rain gauge. Orange County issues preemptive countywide rain advisories that warn of elevated bacteria levels in the ocean for a period of at least 72 hours after rain events of 0.2 inch or more. San Diego County issues preemptive rain advisories for a period of up to 72 hours after a rain event of 0.2 inch or more.
Preemptive advisories are also issued for reasons other than rain, such as the presence of excessive debris. Finally, preemptive closings are issued when there is a known sewage spill or when sewage is suspected of affecting a beach. Closings are issued immediately upon notification by the agency responsible for the spill.
In 1999, AB 538 was enacted, which added section 13178 to the Water Code. It requires the SWRCB to: (1) develop by September 30, 2000, source investigation protocols for use in conducting source investigations of storm drains that produce exceedances of bacteriological standards, and (2) report to the Legislature, by March 31, 2001, on the methods by which the SWRCB intends to conduct source investigations of storm drains that produce exceedances of bacteriological standards. Subsequent legislation, AB 2886 (Chapter 727, Statutes of 2000), extended the date for developing the source investigation protocols to June 30, 2001, and the date for the report to December 1, 2001. This report was produced in response to the requirements of AB 538 and section 13178 of the Water Code. An updated and more comprehensive source investigation manual The California Microbial Source Identification Manual - A Tiered Approach to Identifying Fecal Pollution Sources to Beaches was produced in December 2013. This document provides guidance for cost-effectively identifying sources of fecal contamination within a watershed. The manual is based on a hypothesis-driven and tiered approach, in which the user implements the least expensive options first and more expensive tools only when sufficient uncertainty warrants their use. The guidance manual utilizes current molecular technologies to help identify human and animal sources of fecal indicator bacteria.
Michael W. Gjerde
Ocean Plan, Beach and Shellfish Standards
CA State Water Resources Control Board
Ocean Unit, Division of Water Quality
Phone (916) 341-5283
Fax (916) 341-5284
Assembly Bill 1946 requires the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to post monthly beach data from coastal counties throughout the state. The surveys list beach warnings, beach closures, and rain advisories resulting from bacterial contamination. At the end of each month, surveys are updated to reflect the most current monthly health information, collected from county health officers. At the end of June, the board compiles all data into an annual report. These monthly and annual reports are posted in Adobe Acrobat format on the SWRCB Beach Surveys, Closures, and Rain Advisories website.
AB411 requires that a conspicuous warning sign be posted at beaches when a single weekly sample shows that any of three indicator organisms are present above state standards. Closings and advisories are issued on a discretionary basis. Beach hotlines for some California counties are as follows:
County websites with water quality data and closures, postings, and advisories are as follows:
A new State Water Resources Control Board website, Safe to Swim is a statewide portal that allows you to zoom in on county and beach-specific information. The site is intended to allow beachgoers to answer the questions:
A more user-friendly way to determine the latest water quality status of beaches in California is the Swim Guide, a new, free, smart phone app (available from App Store, Google Play, or http://www.theswimguide.org). The Swim Guide utilizes water quality monitoring data from government authorities to determine the water quality at over 300 beaches in California and is updated as frequently as the information is gathered. Provided, and managed, by member groups within the Waterkeeper Alliance, a network of 200 water protection groups worldwide, the Swim Guide helps the user locate the closest, cleanest beach, get directions, view photos, and determine if the water is safe for swimming. The Swim Guide also allows the user to share the whole adventure with your friends and family on your social networks. The guide also allows users to report pollution immediately to their local Waterkeeper. It should be noted that the Swim Guide's "red" designation ("currently not open for swimming") can mean either a high bacteria reading (shown on most county beach monitoring websites as yellow, with a health advisory warning) or a beach closure due to a sewage spill.
The website for the Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System (SCCOOS) also has some bacteriological beach monitoring data, as well as a wealth of other coastal data.
In 2013, California reported 729 coastal beaches and beach segments, 501 of which were monitored. Of all reported beach monitoring samples, 9% exceeded the Beach Action Value (BAV) of 60 enterococcus bacteria colony forming units (cfu) per 100 ml marine or estuarine water in a single sample. NRDC considers all reported samples individually (without averaging) when calculating the percent exceedance rates in this analysis. This includes duplicate samples and reported samples taken outside the official beach season, if any.
The beaches with the highest percent exceedance rates of the BAV in 2013 were Aquatic Park in San Mateo County (64%); Lakeshore Park in San Mateo County (48%); Candlestick Point, Windsurfer Circle in San Francisco County (47%); Inner Cabrillo Beach, San Pedro in Los Angeles County (44%); and Newport Bay, Newport Boulevard Bridge in Orange County (44%).
Note: None of the beaches listed above are open-ocean beaches.
For a bar chart showing a 5-year water quality trend, see NRDC's report.
In June 2013, U.S. EPA released its latest data about beach closings and advisories for the 2012 swimming season. Note that for some states the data is incomplete, making state-to-state or year-to-year comparisons difficult. Here's EPA's BEACH Report for California's 2012 Swimming Season.
Following is a north-to-south county-by-country discussion for the year 2013 from Heal the Bay's 2014 Beach Report Card.
Del Norte County
A single monitoring location (Battery Point Lighthouse) in Del Norte County earned A grades for all three time periods this past year. No other locations in Del Norte County were sampled frequently enough (at least weekly) to receive grades in this report.
Humboldt County earned good water quality grades this past year, though they slipped from last year’s report to 80% A or B grades. Monitoring locations were not sampled frequently enough during winter dry or wet weather to receive grades for those time periods. The county’s only poor water quality grade was at Clam Beach County Park near Strawberry Creek (D grade), which earned the No. 6 Beach Bummer spot in this year’s report. This is Clam Beach’s second appearance on the Beach Bummer list. Potential bacteria sources include onsite sewage treatment systems, wildlife, domestic animals, and vegetation.
Sewage Spill Summary
There were no reported sewage spills in Humboldt County that led to beach closures this past year.
All six consistently monitored beaches in Mendocino County received A grades during summer dry weather this past year. Monitoring locations were not sampled frequently enough during winter dry or wet weather to earn grades for those time periods.
Sewage Spill Summary
There were no reported sewage spills in Mendocino County that led to beach closures this past year.
Sonoma County once again earned excellent summer dry weather water quality grades this year with all A grades, and bested the five-year county average (97% A or B grades). Monitoring locations were not sampled frequently enough during winter dry or wet weather to earn grades for those time periods.
Sewage Spill Summary
There were no reported sewage spills in Sonoma County that led to beach closures this past year.
Marin County’s water quality monitoring program gathered data during the summer from 25 bayside and oceanside monitoring locations. Ocean locations included Dillon Beach, Bolinas Beach (Wharf Road), Stinson Beach, Muir Beach, Rodeo Beach and Baker Beach. These locations were monitored on a weekly basis from April through October 2013. There was little or no monitoring during the winter months. Water quality grades were excellent in Marin County this year with all A grades except for McNears Beach, which earned a B grade.
Sewage Spill Summary
There were no reported sewage spills in Marin County that led to beach closures this past year.
San Francisco County
The County of San Francisco, in partnership with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, maintained its weekly monitoring program for ocean and bay shoreline locations this past year. Fourteen locations were monitored on a weekly basis year-round. San Francisco County’s summer dry weather grades were good and on par with last year with 86% A or B grades, though slightly below the five-year county average (90% A or B grades). For the second year in a row, the two locations that scored below a B grade during summer dry weather were Baker Beach Lobos Creek (C grade) and Candlestick Point Windsurfer Circle (C grade) -- the latter earning a spot on this year’s California Beach Bummer list at No. 10. The location’s adjacent storm drain serves the Monster Stadium area and may be contributing to the beach’s poor water quality, though no definitive sources have been identified at this location.
Winter dry weather water quality in the county was fair and similar to last year’s grades with 71% A grades. Fair to poor winter dry weather grades in San Francisco County were seen at: Aquatic Park Beach 211 Station (C grade), Crissy Field Beach East (D grade), Baker Beach at Lobos Creek (C grade), and Candlestick Point Windsurfer Circle (F grade). Wet weather grades in San Francisco were up 21% from the year to 64% A or B grades, and slightly above the county’s five-year average (61% A or B grades).
Background Information from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission
The city and county of San Francisco have a unique storm water infrastructure that occurs in no other California coastal county – a combined sewer and storm drain system (CSS). This system provides treatment to most of San Francisco’s storm water flows. All street runoff during dry weather receives full secondary treatment. All storm flow receives at least the wet weather equivalent of primary treatment and most receive full secondary treatment before being discharged through a designated outfall. During heavy rain events, the CSS can discharge combined treated urban runoff and sewage wastewater, typically comprised of 94% treated storm water and 6% primary treated sanitary flow. In an effort to reduce the number of combined sewer discharges (CSDs), San Francisco has built a system of underground storage, transport and treatment boxes to handle major rain events. CSDs are legally, quantitatively and qualitatively distinct from raw sewage spills that occur in communities with separate sewers. Because of the CSS, San Francisco’s ocean shoreline has no flowing storm drains in dry weather throughout the year, and therefore is not subject to AB 411 monitoring requirements. However, the city does have a year-round program that monitors beaches each week. Although most of San Francisco is served by the CSS, there are some areas of federally owned land and areas operated by the Port of San Francisco that have separate storm drains.
Combined Sewer Discharge Summary
This past year, San Francisco had three CSDs all occurring during heavy rainfall: November 20, 2013 at Ocean Beach (including Fort Funston); February 26, 2014 at Fort Funston; and February 9, 2014 at Ocean Beach (including Fort Funston) and Baker Beach. Collectively, these events led to a total of nine beach closures.
San Mateo County
The County of San Mateo Environmental Health Department monitored 23 ocean and bayside locations on a weekly basis during the summer months, from as far upcoast as Sharp Park Beach to a downcoast location at Gazos Creek. Twenty-two of these locations were monitored year-round and earned grades for all three time periods in this report.
Summer dry weather grades in San Mateo County were good this past year earning 83% A grades, on par with the county’s five-year average. Winter dry weather grades were very good with 91% A or B grades, edging out the five-year county average (89% A or B grades). San Mateo’s wet weather A or B grades were up 20% from last year’s report to 64%, and 10% above the county’s five-year average (54% A or B grades).
San Mateo County was host to two Beach Bummers slots this year. Aquatic Park and Lakeshore Park in Marina Lagoon climbed four notches to the No. 2 Beach Bummer spot, where poor water quality results from an overall lack of circulation in the lagoon. Pillar Point Harbor at the end of Westpoint Avenue took the No. 8 spot on the list.
In January 2014, the final report for Pillar Point Harbor’s bacterial source identification study was released. The San Mateo County Resource Conservation District implemented the CBI grant funded project in order to identify the primary sources associated with Pillar Point Harbor’s chronically poor beach water quality. The project failed to find a definitive pollution source, though it determined that high FIB levels were likely flowing into the harbor from storm drains and creeks. Next steps include implementing BMPs designed to mitigate and/or filter stormwater flows, and fix leaking sewer systems.
Sewage Spill Summary
There were no reported sewage spills that led to beach closures in San Mateo County this past year.
Santa Cruz County
The County of Santa Cruz Environmental Health Services monitored 13 shoreline locations frequently enough (at least weekly) to be included in this report, spanning the area from Natural Bridges State Beach downcoast to Rio del Mar Beach.
Santa Cruz County beaches earned good summer dry weather grades this past year, with 85% A or B grades, 9% above the five-year county average. Fair to poor summer dry weather grades continue to persist at Cowell Beach wharf (F grade) and Capitola Beach west of the jetty (C grade): these were the only two locations in the county to earn lower than an A grade for summer dry weather.
Winter dry weather grades were excellent with 100% of weekly monitored beaches earning A grades, which is 10% above the five-year county average. Wet weather grades were also good with 85% A grades (37% above the five-year county average). Only a single location scored below a C grade during wet weather: Capitola Beach west of the jetty (F grade). This beach is also the No. 9 Beach Bummer in this year’s report. Capitola Beach has a history of chronically polluted beach water and this year’s inclusion marks its third appearance on the Beach Bummer List in the past six years.
This is Cowell Beach’s fifth consecutive year on the Beach Bummer list, and this year it earns the title of California’s No. 1 most polluted beach. Cowell Beach’s chronic and persistent poor water quality has been the focus of several research projects, including a Stanford University-led Source Identification Protocol Project (SIPP) that included source tracking efforts. The study revealed persistent low levels of human-associated fecal bacteria which led researchers to a buried pipe in the sand. Shortly after this discovery, the City of Santa Cruz traced the pipe to a toilet in a nearby apartment building, which was flushing directly into the stormdrain. The City quickly addressed the problem and completed all necessary repairs by March 2013.
The State Board recently issued a draft preliminary CBI funding commitment for the City of Santa Cruz to inspect, isolate, and clean the nearby storm drain system infrastructure that drains Neary Lagoon, determined to be a significant pollution source and likely contributing to both Cowell and Main Beach’s water quality. The upgraded stormdrain pipes should eliminate any additional illicit sewage discharges.
The State Board also recently issued a second draft preliminary CBI funding commitment to the Santa Cruz County Sanitation District in order to repair approximately 1,530 feet of corroded sewage pipe less than a quarter of a mile from Cowell Beach.
NOTE: Surfrider Foundation's Santa Cruz Chapter has a Clean Up Cowell's campaign and a related Safe and Clean Beaches campaign.
Sewage Spill Summary
There were no reported sewage spills in Santa Cruz County that led to beach closures this past year.
The Monterey County Health Department monitored eight locations on a weekly basis from April through October 2013, from as far upcoast as the Monterey Beach Hotel at Roberts Lake in Seaside to a downcoast location of Carmel City Beach. Samples were generally not collected at point zero (at the drainage outlet) but at a distance from the potential pollution source.
Monterey County’s summer dry weather grades were on par with last year with 75% A or B grades, and eight percent below the five-year county average (83% A or B grades). Monterey beaches were not monitored frequently enough throughout the winter to receive grades in this report for the winter dry and wet weather time periods.
Lover’s Point Park (C grade) and Stillwater Cove (D grade) continue to earn the county’s poorest water quality grades. Stillwater Cove’s water quality dipped to such a degree this past year that it earned the No. 5 spot on this year’s Beach Bummer list, its second appearance since 2004. Urban runoff to the beach area from an adjacent golf course may be contributing to Stillwater Cove’s poor water quality grades, potentially making this beach an ideal candidate for a stormwater diversion and/or mitigation project.
Lovers Point Park Beach has been the focus of water quality related studies for nearly a decade. During the summer of 2013, Stanford University conducted a microbial source tracking (MST) study at Lovers Point Beach, where preliminary results revealed the presence of human markers in approximately 20% of the beach water samples. Results conclude that the storm drain system in Lovers Point is contaminated with human sewage. As a result of these findings, on April 24, 2014 the City of Pacific Grove submitted a detailed CBI grant application requesting to increase the grant amount from $2,500,000 to roughly $3,290,000, in order to implement extensive repairs to damaged storm drain and sewer pipes. The State Board plans to issue the City a preliminary funding commitment for the project soon.
Sewage Spill Summary
There was one sewage spill of approximately 900 gallons that resulted in a beach closure at Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove on February 10, 2014. Subsequent water quality samples met state standards 10 days later on February 20, 2014.
San Luis Obispo County
San Luis Obispo County Environmental Health Services monitored 19 locations this year from Pico Avenue in San Simeon downcoast to Pismo State Beach (at the end of Strand Way). Samples were generally not collected at point zero (at the drainage outlet) but at a distance from potential pollution sources.
San Luis Obispo’s summer dry weather grades were very good (89% A and B grades) but slightly lower than last year (95% A or B grades, a one beach difference) and below the five-year county average (97% A or B grades) and state average (95% A or B grades) this year. Olde Port/Harford Beach (C grade) and Pismo Beach Pier (C grade) were the two locations to earn below an A grade during summer dry weather. Winter dry grades were excellent this past year with 100% A or B grades and bested the five-year county average by five percent and the state average by eight percent.
The number of A and B grades during wet weather was up 11% from our last report to 95% this past year, but bested the county’s five-year average (82% A or B grades) by 13% and the state average this year by 26% (69% A or B grades). Pismo State Beach, projection of Pier Avenue (C grade) earned the county’s lowest wet weather grade this past year.
Sewage Spill Summary
There were no reported sewage spills in San Luis Obispo County that led to beach closures this past year.
Santa Barbara County
The County of Santa Barbara Environmental Health Agency monitored 16 locations on a weekly basis year-round, from as far upcoast as Guadalupe Dunes to the downcoast location at Carpinteria State Beach. Samples were generally not collected at point zero (at the drainage outlet) but at a distance from the potential pollution source.
Summer dry weather water quality in Santa Barbara was excellent with all 16 monitoring locations receiving A grades, besting the five-year county average for A grades by 20%. Winter dry weather grades were also excellent with 94% A or B grades, three percent above the five-year county average. Arroyo Burro Beach was the only beach to receive a grade below an A or B during dry weather, earning a C grade for the winter dry time period.
Santa Barbara’s wet weather A and B grades slipped 13% this past year to 81%, though still bested the county’s five-year average by 33% and state average by 12% this year. Three locations scored lower than a B grade during the wet weather time period: Hope Ranch Beach (F grade), Arroyo Burro (C grade) and East Beach at Mission Creek (F grade).
Improved beach water quality throughout Santa Barbara has followed from numerous water quality improvement and research projects. Recent projects include the Laguna Channel Watershed Study, Water Quality Feasibility Analysis, and Source Tracking Program which have led to the identification and repair of leaking sewer lines in the Arroyo Burro and Mission Creek watersheds, as well as lagoon habitat restoration at Arroyo Burro Beach. Restoration efforts are in development for Mission Lagoon. In addition, record-low rainfall in Southern California also likely played a part in the county’s near- perfect grades.
Sewage Spill Summary
There were no reported sewage spills in Santa Barbara County that led to beach closures this past year.
The County of Ventura Environmental Health Division monitored 40 locations weekly from April through October 2013 (only 12 locations were monitored year-round, eight less than last year, due to county beach program funding cuts), year-round monitored beaches range from Rincon (south of Rincon Creek near the Santa Barbara County line) to the southern end of Ormond Beach. Samples were generally not collected at point zero (at the drainage outlet) but at a distance from the potential pollution source. Beach water quality at Ventura County beaches was excellent this past year across all three time periods (for the few beaches that were monitored year round), with 100% of the locations receiving A or B grades.
Ventura County’s grades during winter dry and wet weather bested the county’s five- year averages, and the county’s summer dry grades tied a perfect five-year average of 100% A grades. Ventura County’s only wet weather F grade in our last report (Hobie Beach) scored an A grade this past year during wet weather. Sewage Spill Summary
There were no reported sewage spills in Ventura County that led to beach closures this past year.
Los Angeles County
There are five agencies within the County of Los Angeles that contributed monitoring information to Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card:
Los Angeles County outlet beaches (those adjacent to a storm drain or creek) are monitored directly at the outfall. Heal the Bay believes that monitoring closest to a potential pollution source or outlet (point zero) gives the most accurate picture of water quality at these types of beaches and is also the most protective of public health.
Los Angeles County’s summer dry weather A and B grades were up six percent this past year to 90% and well above the county’s five year average of 81% A or B grades. Every Santa Monica Bay ocean beach scored an A or B grade during summer dry weather except Santa Monica Municipal Pier (D grade). Overall, Santa Monica Bay summer dry water quality was excellent. A and B grades were up 5% from our last report with 97% of beaches from Leo Carrillo to Cabrillo oceanside earning A or B grades (up 11% from two years ago). Santa Monica Bay summer dry weather grades bested the five- year average by six percent (91% A or B grades) and the statewide average by two percent this year (95% A or B grades). This past year, winter dry weather water quality in Los Angeles County held steady at 86% A or B grades, 13% above the county’s five-year average.
This past year, wet weather grades in Los Angeles County slipped to 50% A or B grades (57% the previous year), though still bested the county five-year average by 13% (37% A or B grades). 34 of 84 (40%) sample sites received F grades this past year during wet weather compared to 18 of 84 (21%) in our last report. This past rainy season was one of the driest on record, though Los Angeles County still experienced a few intense rains this past winter which resulted in fair to poor water quality for half of the monitored beaches. Most notably, in Long Beach all 15 monitoring locations received F grades for wet weather (accounting for almost half of the county’s F grades) compared to only three Long Beach wet weather F grades in our last report.
Though Los Angeles County grades were up across the board this past year, they still fell short (by as much as 20%) during wet weather compared to statewide averages for all three time periods. However, Los Angeles County’s move to sample at the mouth of flowing storm drains and creeks due to the Santa Monica Bay Beach Bacteria Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) has historically contributed to the county’s grades being below the state average. Still, it is important to note that the discrepancy among counties should not solely be attributed to the sampling location. For example, Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey and Cabrillo (harborside at restrooms) had very poor water quality this past year even though storm drains are not known to be a major contributor to pollution at these locations.
Heal the Bay believes that sampling at the outfall (point zero) of drains and creeks gives a more accurate picture of water quality and is far more protective of human health. Statewide, most monitoring locations associated with storm drains or creeks are actually sampled a substantial distance from the outfall.
Malibu Pier and Redondo Pier may have missed this year’s Beach Bummer list (both on last year’s Beach Bummer list); however, it is concerning that both locations earned C grades (summer dry) during one of the driest years on record. Typically, during dry weather or periods of drought, beach water quality shows improvement as stormwater runoff volumes are reduced. While beach water quality at the Malibu Pier and Redondo Pier has been inconsistent over the past few years, this year’s mediocre dry weather grades are an indicator of pollution problems at these sites. Heal the Bay will continue to closely monitor water quality grades as well as work with local agencies to investigate potential pollution sources at these two piers.
Cabrillo Beach (harborside)
Heal the Bay remains concerned with the poor water quality still observed at Cabrillo Beach harborside, despite extensive water quality improvement projects including: replacement of beach sand, removal of a rock jetty, installation of water circulation pumps, and installation of a bird exclusion structure. After more than $20 million invested in improving water quality at Cabrillo’s enclosed beach, it is still violating fecal bacteria TMDL limits. The Los Angeles Regional Board issued a Time Schedule Order (TSO) for inner Cabrillo Beach’s boat ramp location on February 6, 2014, for failure to meet existing bacteria TMDL standards. The TSO requires the city to investigate and institute feasible structural and non-structural Best Management Practices (BMPs) by December 31, 2016.
The City of Los Angeles is currently working on the following projects:
NSE-based criteria can be applied to sites where source identification studies show no or minimal human contamination. However, this approach should only be contemplated after all anthropogenic sources of bacteria have been controlled or eliminated.
Santa Monica Pier
The Santa Monica Pier has a long history of chronic beach pollution and is back on the Beach Bummer list at No. 7. Though a combination of CBI and Measure V funding (approved by Santa Monica voters in 2006) has led to a number of beach water quality improvement projects at the pier, grades have been poor again recently. Projects included the repair of a corroded and leaky storm drain, the redirection of stormwater runoff to the Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility (SMURRF) and the installation of bird netting under the pier to prevent pigeons and other birds from nesting and contributing fecal bacteria to the beach water. In the spring of 2010, beach water quality grades noticeably improved for approximately two years, before they started to fall during the winter of 2012-2013. Heal the Bay conducted a site visit shortly after the grades dropped and discovered large rips in the netting under the pier. It was evident that the birds were once again nesting under the pier, potentially triggering the poor water quality grades. After several unsuccessful attempts to patch the pier netting, the netting was completely replaced this past February. Heal the Bay will continue to closely monitor the Pier’s water quality grades, and hopes to work directly with the City of Santa Monica if poor water quality continues to persist.
To further improve beach water quality throughout Santa Monica, the City of Santa Monica is pursuing the following projects:
Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey comes in at the No. 3 Beach Bummer spot in this year’s report, making its first appearance on the List. This beach was the focus of a 2007 source identification study, where the bird population was deemed the largest FIB contributor. Mother’s Beach is an enclosed beach, meaning it is protected from open ocean currents and tends to have poor beach water circulation. These findings resulted in the installation of a CBI-funded circulation device installed March 2008. However, the device has been offline most of this past year (May 2013 – February 2014) due to maintenance issues, and likely has contributed to the drop of water quality grades this year. Since the circulation device is now working, Heal the Bay hopes to see improved beach water quality at Mother’s Beach this summer.
Avalon Beach - Update
Avalon Beach has a long history of chronically polluted beach water problems that can be traced back to 1999, when recreational beach water quality was first mandated by the state under AB 411. In 2000, Avalon Beach made its first appearance on the Beach Bummer list and has since made the list 12 of the last 14 years. Avalon Beach’s perpetually poor beach water quality made it the focus of several studies, including a Stanford University study where human-specific bacteria were identified in Avalon’s beach water. In addition there was a 2007 epidemiology study that correlated levels of beach water pollution to negative health risks including gastrointestinal illness (GI illness).
In early 2011, the Regional Board issued the City of Avalon a Notice of Violation (NOV) for numerous Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSO) and consistent water quality violations. Then in February 2012, the Regional Board issued a Draft Cease and Desist Order (CDO) to the city for illegally discharging polluted water. Concurrently, the Board adopted a bacteria TMDL for Avalon Harbor.
Since the issuance of the Order, the City of Avalon has spent over $5.7 million on sewer main improvements and implementation of a GIS-based inspection and tracking system as part of its sanitary sewer inspection and repair program. The City has also adopted the following regulations:
Other water quality improvement efforts made by the City of Avalon (including some CDO requirements) include:
The City of Avalon recently hosted a Water Quality Symposium targeted towards agencies including the State and Regional Boards, universities, environmental organizations, and other interested parties. Participants were briefed on Avalon Beach’s water quality history, relevant water quality/health related studies, and Avalon’s completed and future water quality improvement projects.
Heal the Bay is pleased to announce that Avalon Beach is not on the Beach Bummer list this year (for only the second time in the past 14 years). Avalon Beach’s summer dry weather grades are typically poor, and though not perfect this past year, beach water quality grades were much improved (1 A, 2 Bs and 2 Cs). We are hopeful that this trend of beach water quality improvement will continue this coming summer at Avalon Beach.
During dry weather, the City of Long Beach continues to show improved beach water quality. This past year, summer dry weather A and B grades were up 10% from last year at 87%, besting the five-year average by 16% (71% A or B grades). Winter dry weather grades continue to be much improved as well with 100% of locations earning A or B grades – 45% higher than Long Beach’s five-year average. However, wet weather grades in Long Beach took a dive again this past year, and all locations received F grades. Unfortunately, Long Beach’s wet weather five-year average continues to be the worst in the state, with only 7% A or B grades.
The City of Long Beach has made significant efforts to identify pollution sources and improve beach water quality, despite influence from the Los Angeles River’s 100-plus square mile drainage area (the predominant source of fecal bacteria to Long Beach waters). In 2013, the City of Long Beach was awarded $4.9 million in CBI grant funds to further improve recreational water quality through projects including: the installation of low flow diversions and vortex separation devices intended to keep trash and other contaminants from entering Long Beach waters. Project design bids are scheduled to be evaluated this summer.
Since 2010, approximately $8.5 million in structural and capital improvement projects have been made to the historically polluted Colorado Lagoon. These improvements include stormwater diversions, lagoon dredging, and the installation of trash traps and bio-swales around the lagoon. As a result of their efforts, the Colorado Lagoon dropped off of the Beach Bummer list in 2012. This year, both Colorado Lagoon monitoring locations received A grades during summer dry and winter dry weather.
Heal the Bay recognizes the city’s utilization of regional partnerships, grant funding, technology and infrastructure improvements to improve beach water quality, and looks forward to the implementation of collaborative wet weather water quality improvement projects.
Sewage Spill Summary
There were only two reported sewage spills in Los Angeles County this past year. The first spill on June 18, 2013 released approximately 100-200 gallons of raw sewage (the result of a private sewage line break) which closed a 100-yard stretch of beach for four days near Big Rock Drive in Malibu.
The second spill (due to root blockage) occurred on October 5, 2013 and released an estimated 2,000 gallons near Palos Verdes Estates. Unfortunately, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH) closed Bluff Cove Beach instead of Malaga Cove Beach which is directly downstream of the spill location.
On August 25, 2014, a summer Sunday with temperatures above 80 degrees, an estimated 996 gallons of sewage entered the beach water just north of Will Rogers Beach. However, the Los Angeles County DPH failed to close the beach and potentially jeopardized the public health of numerous beach goers. Heal the Bay subsequently approached the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health in regards to this incident and other sewage spill notification concerns. The County is currently working on revisions to their Sewage Spill and Beach Closure Policy so they are more consistent and protective of public health. We urge the county to quickly finalize these critical protocols
There are three agencies within Orange County that provide monitoring information to Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card:
Samples were collected throughout the year along open coastal and bay beaches, as well as near flowing storm drains, creeks or rivers. Samples were generally not collected at point zero (at the drainage outlet) but at a distance from the potential pollution source.
Orange County grades for summer dry weather this past year were excellent – 98 of 102 locations (96%) scored A grades – with only one location scoring below a B grade: Dana Point Harbor Baby Beach, buoy line (C grade).
During winter dry weather, 97% of year round monitored beaches (89 locations) received A or B grades, with only three locations earning C grades: Seal Beach projection of 1st Street, Huntington State Beach projection of Brookhurst Street, and Doheny State Beach north of San Juan Creek.
Wet weather water quality this past year in Orange County dipped to 66% A or B grades (compared to 73% A or B grades in 2012-2013) though still bested the county’s five-year average of 59% A or B grades for wet weather.
Orange County once again displayed excellent summer dry weather water quality grades with 99% A or B grades this past year. Winter dry weather was also excellent with 97% A or B grades, 10% above the five-year average (87% A or B grades).
Model Monitoring Program
Four years ago, Orange County began to investigate integrating multiple agencies’ efforts into a model monitoring program by pooling the sampling resources of wastewater facilities, stormwater programs and the Orange County Health Care Agency. This concept was then brought to the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board who approved a resolution supporting the regional monitoring framework, and expressed support for the development and implementation of improved monitoring and assessment programs for waters in the region (both Orange County and San Diego County). For details on this regional collaborative monitoring framework see here.
Poche Beach News
This year, Poche Beach’s historically poor water quality grades saw much improvement (No. 3 Beach Bummer in last year’s report) and earned A or B grades for all three time periods. Poche Beach’s improved grades are perhaps due to the recent multi-agency beach water quality improvement efforts. While the beach’s urban runoff treatment facility has continued to meet effluent water quality standards, runoff from an adjacent pond (and a local bird hang-out) has been linked to elevated fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) levels in the beach water. Poche Beach’s large bird population led to the initiation of a falconry program, where falcons are brought by a falconer to a specific area to deter the general bird population from roosting and/or visiting their typical hangout spot. Orange County Waste and Recycling is currently implementing this program at the Prima Deshecha Landfill, where birds typically like to stop before making their way to Poche Beach. In addition, the City of San Clemente plans to organize a falconry program at Poche Beach this summer. Orange County Parks plans to continue their bird deterrent coyote decoy program, which has shown promising results. The decoy program, implemented last fall, places coyote decoys along the Poche Creek outlet and surfzone, deterring birds from these areas.
Doheny Beach News
Doheny Beach has been the focus of numerous water quality studies, including the 2007-2008 epidemiology study, summarized in the article Using Rapid Indicators for Enterococcus to Assess the Risk of Illness after Exposure to Urban Runoff Contaminated Marine Water, published in Water Research in 2012.
The study’s main findings suggest an increased risk of swimming-associated gastrointestinal (GI) illness at Doheny Beach. The City of Dana Point is facilitating a multi-agency task force focused on improving Doheny Beach’s water quality. The agencies include: State Parks, the State Board, San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB), the County of Orange, Dana Point Harbor, Orange County Health Care Agency, San Juan Capistrano, South Coast Water District, Caltrans, Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP), OC Waste and Recycling and the City of San Clemente.
The main focus is on an area-wide sanitary survey to address all potential human sources. Current survey results have led to the following: homeless encampment management, the implementation of a new vessel ordinance regulating boat waste disposal, repaired sewer lines, and the replacement of a leaking hotel sewage pipe.
A falconry program (see Poche Beach section above) has also helped manage Doheny Beach’s bird population, a source identified as contributing to increased FIB levels in the beach water.
Sewage Spill Summary
Orange County had eleven sewage spills that led to beach closures this past year. Six spills were greater than 1,000 gallons. The largest spill occurred August 31, 2013 (approximately 77,000 gallons) due to a pump station failure at the Costa Mesa Sanitary District, resulting in three days of beach closures between upper Newport Bay (the Santa Ana Delhi Channel) and Newport Beach in Newport Dunes. On January 1, 2014 a pump station failure in the City of Huntington Beach resulted in an estimated 2,000 gallons (approximately 1,200 gallons recovered) and closed Humboldt Beach, Davenport Beach, and the Huntington Harbour Channel for three days. A line blockage occurring on February 12, 2014 led to the release of between 1,500-2,000 gallons of sewage, causing Monarch Beach and Salt Creek Beach to be closed for three days. An estimated 1,100 gallon spill occurred on March 3, 2014 caused by root blockage, closing the Blue Lagoon Beach in Laguna Beach for two days.
Other smaller spills throughout the summer closed Portofino Cove in Huntington Harbour (300 gallons/ five day closure beginning April 20, 2013), Portofino Cove in Huntington Harbour (250 gallons/three day closure beginning May 4, 2013), Mariposa Beach in San Clemente (65 gallons/four day closure beginning June 25, 2013), Newport Bay beaches from Bayside Drive to Carnation Cove (500 gallons/two day closure beginning June 26, 2013), Poche Creek at Poche Beach 300 feet upcoast and downcoast (200 gallons/three day closure beginning July 4, 2013), Salt Creek in Dana Point 300 feet upcoast and downcoast (560 gallons/two day closure beginning July 23, 2013), and Cameo Shores Beach in Newport Beach (250 gallons/three day closure beginning September 20, 2013).
A 2011 Annual Ocean and Bay Water Quality Report, previous year's reports, and access to actual monitoring data for Orange County is available at http://ocbeachinfo.com/download.
San Diego County
There are five agencies within San Diego County that provided monitoring information directly to Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card (BRC):
Samples were collected throughout the year along open coastal and bay beaches, some sites are near flowing storm drains, creeks or rivers. Drainage outlet samples were generally collected at the wave wash (where runoff and ocean water mix) or 25 yards away from a flowing storm drain, creek or river.
Beach water quality during summer dry weather at the 74 monitoring locations in San Diego County was excellent. The County’s water quality during winter dry weather was also excellent with 47 of 48 (98%) monitoring locations receiving A or B grades (only 65% of the summer monitoring locations were sampled consistently throughout the winter). One location in San Diego County scored below an A grade during dry weather: Tijuana Rivermouth (F grade during winter dry weather).
The percentage of wet weather A or B grades (79%) was down eight percent from the previous year though still bested the county’s five-year average (by 7%) and this year’s statewide average (by 10%).
Tijuana River Impacts
Flows from the sewage-impacted Tijuana River continue to impact San Diego beaches from the international border north to Coronado. In Mexico, the Tijuana River flows year-round with all dry weather flows (less than 30 million gallons per day) diverted to a sewage treatment plant. The Tijuana River diversion and treatment plant were part of a multifaceted water quality treaty between the United States and Mexico, which has led to significantly improved summer dry beach water quality along the south county coastline. However, the diversion cannot facilitate high volume flows (e.g. during a significant rain event) and can result in potentially hundreds of millions of gallons of sewer laden stormwater and other contaminants entering United States waters. More specifically, flows from the Tijuana River enter the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge and estuary before being discharged (approximately one mile north of the International Boarder) to the Pacific Ocean.
Under typical conditions, near-shore currents usually divert Tijuana River flows south towards Mexico, though storms and other meteorological factors can rapidly influence (and change) current directions with little or no warning. As a precautionary approach, when the Tijuana River is flowing, beach closures are issued from the international border to the south end of Seacoast Drive in Imperial Beach. When precautionary beach closures are in effect, the San Diego Department of Environmental Health (DEH) monitors flow conditions and when appropriate, will initiate beach water quality monitoring in an effort to reopen affected beaches.
Sewage Spill Summary
This past winter, sewage discharge into the Tijuana River resulted in six separate closure events from Imperial Beach to the international border. Each of the closure events ranged from three to sixteen days in duration. Two sewage spills of known volume led to other beach closures in San Diego County this past year. The first spill (approximately 100 gallons) occurred January 7, 2014 as a result of a blocked sewer lateral and closed Spanish Landing Beach for seven days. The second spill (an estimated 22,000 gallons) occurred December 1, 2013 and closed Ocean Beach and South Mission Beach for six days.
Although the State of California has no centralized collection of information on the location of coastal wastewater treatment plants and sewage outfalls that discharge to the ocean, the environmental group Heal The Ocean (Santa Barbara, CA) compiled this information in a report California Ocean Wastewater Discharge Inventory, March 2010. The report (PDF) is accompanied by interactive mapping to tally all wastewater discharged into the Pacific Ocean by the State of California, from the Oregon border to San Diego/Tijuana. Included are permits, amounts, and types of discharge, and a discussion of recycled water as a means of conserving water and preventing ocean pollution. An interactive website constructed by David Greenberg, PhD, of the Marine Science Institute, UCSB, shows latitude & longitude of outfalls, outfall relationship to 303(d) impaired beaches, areas of special biological significance, and marine sanctuaries.
Key points from the report include:
The report's recommendations are:
In 2007, San Francisco had almost 2,000 sewer spills contributing 12 million gallons of raw sewage streets and creeks, according to San Francisco Baykeeper. Much of that flows straight into the San Francisco Bay. It's an amount 240 times greater than the oil spilled by the Cosco Busan in 2007. Most of the spillage comes from aging pipes that are often caked with grease, and marred with cracks and gaping holes. It's part of an infrastructure that in some places is 50 to 100 years old. According to the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Bay Area has a sewage spill rate that's more than double the statewide average. Read here for historical details on San Francisco's sewer and storm drain systems. Here's a more recent article.
In Los Angeles, the Bureau of Sanitation has reduced the number of sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) by 80% since the baseline fiscal year (FY) of 2000/2001, reaching another record low number of SSOs in 2009/2010. The City of Los Angeles wastewater collection system is operated and maintained by the Department of Public Works, Bureau of Sanitation (BOS). There were 687 recorded SSOs in 2000/2001, 444 in 2003/2004, 200 in FY 2007/2008, 159 in FY 2008/2009, and 139 in FY 2009/10. The reduction in SSOs is believed to be a direct result of the implementation of proactive programs by the Bureau, including enhanced and increased sewer cleaning and inspection; expansion of the Fats, Oils and Grease (FOG) control program; a focused tree root control program and improved sewer planning and renewal.
Online, searchable Google map information is now available from the State Water Resources Control Board showing sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) statewide.
Until 2002, Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD) was the largest agency in the nation using a Clean Water Act Section 301(h) waiver to avoid treating their municipal wastewater to secondary treatment standards. A tremendous groundswell of pressure from Surfrider activists, other environmental groups, and the citizens of Orange County resulted in the Board of Directors of OCSD voting in July 2002 to drop their waiver and proceed with the planning, design, and construction of facilities necessary to achieve full secondary treatment. It should also be noted that a large percentage of Orange County's wastewater that is going through the secondary treatment process is now being further treated by microfiltration, reverse osmosis and advanced oxidation in Orange County Water District's award winning Groundwater Replenishment System (GRS). GRS went on-line in 2008, producing 70 million gallons per day (MGD) of high quality potable water. GRS has been so successful that it is now being expanded to produce 100 MGD. The upgrade to full secondary treatment was essentially complete in mid-2011 and was officially deemed complete in 2012.
With the end of OCSD's waiver, the city of San Diego earned the distinction of being the largest sewage agency in the country with a 301(h) waiver. Their Point Loma Treatment Plant only treats their sewage using "advanced primary" treatment. In 2009 they were granted another 5-year waiver, largely because of intensive ocean monitoring by scientists at Scripps Institute of Oceanography that indicated no significant ecological effects from the ocean discharge. Environmental groups including Surfrider Foundation, San Diego Coastkeeper and Sierra Club have aggressively pushed the city to implement more wastewater recycling from the North City Water Reclamation Plant and other locations as a way of lessening wastewater discharges to the ocean. As a result, the city is now embarking on a Pure Water San Diego program that will produce 83 MGD of high quality potable water and significantly reduce ocean discharges.
San Diego's southern beaches have also historically suffered from discharges of raw sewage from Tijuana, Mexico, especially at Imperial Beach. In 1998, Imperial Beach was closed on 161 days. In 1999, beachgoers enjoyed an eight-month-long closure-free season for the first time in over 20 years, which at the time was attributed to the new International Wastewater Treatment Plant (IWTP). This plant is also utilizing only advanced primary treatment, although EPA and the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) are working to expand the facility to provide full secondary treatment. When this occurs, San Diego's plant will be in the embarrassing position of providing less treatment than Tijuana's plant. Although, to be fair, it should be noted that the discharge of San Diego's partially-treated sewage has had little demonstrated human health or ecological impact and a substantial amount of sewage in Tijuana has historically never made it to the treatment plant and is instead discharged directly to the Tijuana River. This problem becomes acute during periods of heavy rain, such as occurred during the 2004-2005 winter when beaches from the border north through Imperial Beach and often extending into Coronado were closed for an extended period. More info. The Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System (SCCOOS) has developed a sewage plume tracking model that uses data from Tijuana River flows and ocean currents to predict where the Tijuana River plume may be impacting the coast. The output from this model is updated hourly.
In April 2010 the San Diego Union Tribune reported that with the opening of the La Morita sewage treatment plant in Tijuana, the region will soon treat 90 percent of its wastewater. The facility will treat up to 20 percent of the incoming flow for use in irrigation. The treated water will also irrigate a soccer field and public plaza next to the plant. With the opening of another facility scheduled for the end of 2010, officials predict the region will treat 100 percent of its sewage, a first in Mexico.
In an effort to resolve the controversy over how to address the serious sewage discharge problems at the Mexico/U.S. border, a report was prepared in May 2007 for the San Diego Foundation titled Toward a Long-Term Solution for the San Diego-Tijuana Sewage Crisis: Reviving the Process and Moving beyond the Bajagua Debate. The report's recommendations are:
In May 2008, the IBWC announced a decision to upgrade their wastewater treatment plant in San Ysidro to better handle sewage from Tijuana instead of paying a developer (Bajagua) to build and operate a larger facility in Mexico.
A mechanical breakdown and construction work at some U.S. sewage facilities allowed more than 2.1 million gallons of wastewater from Mexico to flood the Tijuana River Valley in San Diego County in June 2010. Unlike most other spills of that size, it prompted little enforcement action by water-quality regulators and no cleanup. The incident ranks as one of the county’s largest sewage-related accidents in the past decade, and one that typically would prompt hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties if it was caused by a local agency. A top regulator at the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board stated that he didn't plan to issue fines because the U.S. section of the International Boundary and Water Commission is exempt from them under the principle of sovereign immunity.
Surfrider Foundation's San Diego County Chapter and other environmental and civic groups have launched a No B.S. (border sewage) campaign to address the environmental issues affecting the beaches of the border region.
The sewage treatment plant in Morro Bay also has a 301(h) waiver, but this was removed and a timetable for upgrade to at least full secondary treatment standards established in 2007. Implementation, however, has been a very rocky and controversial road. An article published in newtimesslo.com on February 16, 2011, details some of the political intrigue surrounding this project. Here are details on the project from the City of Morro Bay's website.
Another large sewage treatment plant that has upgraded to full secondary treatment is the City of Los Angeles' Hyperion treatment plant. This upgrade, completed in 1999, reduced sewage sludge discharges to Santa Monica Bay by 90%.
The Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP) is a multi-agency joint powers organization for water quality research. Their website has a wealth of information pertaining to sewage outfalls and storm drain runoff. They publish locations and emissions data for the wastewater treatment facilities in Southern California. The following text is from the abstract of the technical paper How effective has the Clean Water Act been at reducing pollutant mass emissions to the Southern California Bight over the past 35 years? which appeared in the SCCWRP 2007 Annual Report.
The federal Clean Water Act (CWA) has regulated discharges of contaminants since 1972. Most of the effort over the past 35 years has focused on controlling point source discharges, although recent attention has shifted to address management of nonpoint sources. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent nationally to implement CWA requirements; however, regional evaluations of the effectiveness of the CWA at improving water quality are lacking. This is primarily due to the fact that monitoring programs mandated by the CWA do not require integration of data from multiple dischargers or classes of dischargers to assess cumulative effects. A rare opportunity exists in southern California to assess CWA effectiveness by integrating mass emissions data from all major sources of contaminants to the Southern California Bight (SCB) from 1971 to 2000. Sources of contaminants to the SCB include large and small publicly owned treatment works (POTWs), power generating stations, industrial facilities, oil platforms, dredged material, and storm water runoff from a watershed area of over 14,000 km2. While the coastal population grew by 56% and total effluent volume increased 31% since 1971, mass emissions of nearly all constituents decreased since passage of the CWA, most by greater than 65%. The median decrease in metals emissions was 88%, while total DDT and PCB emissions each decreased by three orders of magnitude. Large POTWs were the dominant point source of many contaminants to the SCB, accounting for more than 50% of the total annual discharge volume. However, large POTWs also accounted for the most significant reductions in pollutant discharge to the SCB, with most pollutant loads being reduced by greater than 90% compared to pre-CWA levels. As point source treatment has improved, the relative contribution of non-point sources, such as storm water runoff has increased. For example, metals contributions from storm water have increased from 6% of the total to 34% of the total annual load between 1971 and 2000. Despite the increased importance of storm water discharges, regional monitoring and data compilation of this source is lacking, making it difficult to accurately assess trends in non-point source discharge. Future efforts to integrate data from storm water monitoring programs and include dry weather runoff monitoring should improve the accuracy of regional mass emission estimates.
A more recent and user-friendly report from SCCWRP is Forty Years after the Clean Water Act - A Retrospective Look at the Southern California Coastal Ocean (2012).
Current SCCWRP Annual Report and previous Annual Reports.
In Orange County, a Grand Jury report on urban runoff estimated the total dry weather flow to the ocean in the county to be approximately 100 million gallons per day (MGD). Other estimates place this flow at close to 50-60 MGD.
Septic tank systems are used to treat sewage in many rural areas in California, as well as in certain high-profile beach communities (and surfing areas) such as Malibu and Rincon. Years of concerns about pollution from the use of septic tanks at Rincon was resolved in 2007 with the local homeowners voting to connect to the local sewer system. The conflict in Malibu has raged for years, and it has sparked a statewide effort (AB 885) to regulate the installation, inspection and operation of septic tanks. That effort stalled in early 2009 after a storm of protests from rural communities who feel that Malibu's problems are not theirs. The Malibu septic issue was apparently resolved in November 2009 when the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board ordered a phase-out of septic systems in portions of the city. This decision was upheld by the State Water Resources Control Board in fall 2010.
For a video that summarizes all the pollution issues at Malibu, see The Flipside of Malibu.
In February 2011 Coast Law Group LLP (Encinitas) filed a lawsuit in Sacramento on behalf of environmental advocacy groups Heal the Ocean (Santa Barbara) and Heal the Bay (Santa Monica) challenging the failure of the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to adopt regulations or standards for the permitting and operating on-site wastewater treatment systems (“OWTS”), commonly known as “septic systems”, as required by Assembly Bill 885 and the California Water Code.
State Water Resources Control Board contacts
Steve Weisberg, Executive Director
Southern California Coastal Water Research Project
3535 Harbor Blvd., Suite 110
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Phone: (714) 755-3200
California's long and diverse coastline has many different types of adjacent land use, which cause different types of water quality problems.
In Southern California and the San Francisco Bay area, the land is densely populated and supports urban uses. The densely populated coastline, coupled with channelization of many of the major rivers in urban areas and development on most of the wetlands, means that much of the "urban runoff" from the coastal population runs directly into the ocean with little or no treatment. The two main water quality problems in these areas are urban runoff that runs into the ocean year round (greatly increasing during rainstorms), and untreated sewage from sewage overflows. Over the last several decades, "point source" pollution from sewage treatment plants and industry has decreased dramatically, while nonpoint source pollution has gained more attention and is proving to be a difficult and expensive issue to address.
In parts of Southern California and large parts of Central and Northern California, agriculture and logging are the dominant land uses for land adjacent to the ocean. Fertilizers, pesticides, and animal wastes from agricultural operations run off into surrounding streams and rivers, and travel into the ocean, where they can cause nutrient pollution problems, and deposit bacteria that contaminate seafood and make the water unsafe to drink or swim in. Logging operations can create sedimentation problems that affect water clarity in the surrounding streams and rivers. During rainstorms, water erodes dirt from cleared land, and the dirt flows into nearby rivers and streams. The sediment deposited into the waterways reduces water clarity and alters channel characteristics, which affects the ability of fish to survive and reproduce.
Stormwater runoff is the largest source of coastal water pollution, and highways contribute much of it. California's roads accumulate pollutants such as zinc and copper dust from brake pads, small toxic particles from tires, as well as oil and grease. Tons of these pollutants run into our coastal waters, along with the biological pathogens, such as animal and human waste, for which water samples are tested.
The State Water Resources Control Board has the 2010 Integrated Report, Clean Water Act Sections 303(d) and 305(b) on their website. Additional supporting information for this report, impaired water bodies, and the state's Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program can be found on that website. In addition, here is a TMDL factsheet.
Cruise ships have been described as "floating cities" and, like cities, they have a lot of pollution problems. Their per capita pollution is actually worse than a city of the same population, due to weak pollution control laws, lax enforcement, and the difficulty of detecting illegal discharges at sea. Cruise ships impact coastal waters in several US states, including Alaska, California, Florida, and Hawaii.
All cruise ships generate the following types of waste:
A 3,000-passenger cruise ship (considered an average size, some carry 5,000 or more passengers) generates the following amounts of waste on a typical one-week voyage:
In addition, these ships take in large quantities of ballast water, which is seawater pumped into the hulls of ships to ensure stability. This water is typically taken in at one port and then discharged at the ship's destination, which can introduce invasive species and serious diseases into U.S. waters. A typical release of ballast water amounts to 1,000 metric tons.
The management and handling of the various forms of wastes generated by cruise ships has increasingly become a public concern due to the large number of cruise ships calling on California ports. In 2000, the Legislature enacted Division 37 of PRC (section 72300 et seq.) for the purpose of gathering information regarding cruise ships' waste management practices and evaluating their potential impacts on California's environment. The law required the Cal/EPA to convene the multi-agency Task Force to carry out this responsibility and to utilize the information gathered by the Task Force to prepare a report to the Legislature by June 1, 2003. The Executive Summary of the Task Force Report (August 2003) presents the following conclusions:
Therefore, the Task Force recommended that cruise ships be regulated by the state and that an inspection and monitoring program be implemented to protect the state's air and water quality and marine environment. The following is a summary of the Task Force's priority recommendations.
On November 7, 2007, the container ship Cosco Busan collided with the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, spilling more than 50,000 gallons of fuel oil into San Francisco Bay. Because of the spill, more than 2,500 birds died and scores of beaches were closed—including three beaches that were closed for more than three weeks and seven beaches that were closed for more than a week. A package of oil spill legislation primarily aimed at improving oil spill response standards is now making its way through the state legislature.
A naturally-occurring neurotoxin called domoic acid has been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of sea lions in southern California during the last few years. Domoic acid is a chemical that is produced by algae or plankton when it blooms. Domoic acid was not discovered until the late 1980s, and scientists still don't understand why or when the algae blooms occur, nor can they predict which blooms will produce toxins and when they will impact wildlife. What is known is that anchovies, sardines, clams, mussels and other sea life ingest the algae. Then when sea lions (and to a lesser extent, dolphins) eat the anchovies and other affected sea life, they become sick.
The California Department of Public Health has produced marine biotoxin monitoring reports since 1999. A massive harmful algal bloom of Pseudo-nitzschia along the California coast escalated in April 2007, resulting in record toxin levels and hundreds of seabird and marine mammal deaths. This bloom impacted areas from San Luis Obispo south to Los Angeles. Pseudo-nitzschia produce a potent neurotoxin called domoic acid that can accumulate in shellfish and fish, such as sardines and anchovies, causing illness or death higher in the food chain. Humans that consume contaminated seafood can experience a syndrome called Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP). Currently, research in the Southern California Bight is being conducted to understand the relationships between toxic blooms and changing environmental conditions in Los Angeles coastal waters, where these blooms are a recurring problem. Other projects will develop and demonstrate an innovative intensive harmful algal bloom monitoring program that integrates in-situ sensor networking technology, state-of-the-art remote sensing, and cutting-edge species identification and domoic acid quantification methods, along with an economically sustainable monitoring plan for the California coastline.
Numerous sources exist in California for information about ocean water quality, pollution sources, and pollution prevention. At the state level, most of this information and public education programs emanate from the State Water Resources Control Board. The education section of their website contains links to the California Regional Environmental Education Coordinator (CREEC) Environmental Education Network, and a long list of environmental education programs and resources for teachers, planners, and other decision makers.
Also see the new Surface Water Ambient Monitoring Program (SWAMP) website that contains links to the Citizen Monitoring Program. The State Water Resources Control Board website also contains a California Non-point Source (NPS) Encyclopedia. The goal of this guidance document is to provide the best, most relevant information to state and local agencies, regional boards, and nonpoint source practitioners to assist them in identifying and implementing practices to protect high-quality waters and restore impaired waters.
The State Water Board's Nonpoint Source (NPS) Implementation Program has developed an extensive website covering both State and Regional Water Board regulatory solutions for reducing polluted runoff in our state. For more information on the state's NPS Implementation Program, for preventing and reducing polluted runoff, visit the NPS program website.
The California Coastal Commission's website has statewide Nonpoint Source (NPS) program information, which includes several links to related programs, reports and other agencies.
The California State Water Resources Control Board provides some good general information on water quality and storm water pollution.
Every five years, California's Regional Water Quality Control Boards reassess and re-issue Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permits for major urbanized areas. As the Boards craft new permits, opportunities exist to strengthen and expand protection of beachwater quality from the greatest source of pollution: urban stormwater runoff. As part of the revamped cleanup plans, the water boards can stop pollution at the source by implementing low-impact development strategies. For instance, using trees, vegetation, wetlands, and open space in new developments minimizes impermeable surfaces, and therefore reduces polluted urban runoff. These strategies can cost-effectively reduce beach pollution.
Beach Water Quality Work Groups meet in Northern and Southern California on a quarterly basis to coordinate beach water quality related monitoring, pollution abatement, public education, and public notification efforts.
Several educational resources are available through the California Coastal Commission:
California also has launched a Thank You Ocean campaign. One of the campaign’s goals is to educate the public about what they can do to improve beachwater quality, including contacting lawmakers about upcoming legislation.
Public education materials concerning water quality, pollution sources, and pollution prevention tips are also becoming more prevalent at the websites of county health departments, water districts, sanitation districts, and cities. An example is San Diego's Think Blue educational campaign. "Think Blue" seeks to educate residents, business, and industry about the causes of storm water pollution and the pollution prevention behaviors everyone can adopt.
California's Clean Marinas Program is a partnership of private marina owners, government marina operators and yacht clubs in California. The Clean Marinas Program was developed to provide clean facilities to the boating community and protect the state's waterways from pollution. Here is a list of Certified Clean Marinas in California.
The California Coastal Commission has Boating Educational Materials: an Annotated Catalog of Marina and Recreational Boater Pollution Education Materials. Included here are an extensive collection of audio-visual materials, booklets, brochures, factsheets, handbooks/manuals, leaflets/mailers, material for children, newsletters, maps, packets, point of purchase displays, posters, stickers, signs, wallet cards, and tide tables.
Algalita Marine Research Institute maintains a website that is a good source of information concerning the problem of plastics debris in the ocean. They have a Watershed Wonders school assemblies program.
The film Watershed Revolution asks the question, “What is a watershed?” The answer is explored through interviews with people working to protect and preserve the Ventura River, while high definition cinematography brings to life the beauty of the river. The unique challenges faced by a river that is the sole source of water for a thirsty community are brought to life and will change forever your definition of a watershed.
Annie Kohut Frankel
California Coastal Commission
Public Education Program
45 Fremont Street, Suite 2000
San Francisco, CA 94105
Phone: (415) 597-5888
Fax: (415) 904-5216
EPA has compiled several NPS (Nonpoint Source) Outreach Products that are a selection of television, radio, and print products on nonpoint source pollution that have been developed by various agencies and organizations around the country. They are good examples of outreach in the mass media. Also see What You Can Do.
NOAA, in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, International City/County Management Association and Rhode Island Sea Grant, will be releasing, in August 2009, a first-of-its kind interagency guide that adapts smart growth principles to the unique needs of coastal and waterfront communities. Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities builds on existing smart growth principles to offer 10 coastal and waterfront-specific guidelines that help manage development while balancing environmental, economic, and quality of life issues.
USGS' Great Lakes Beach Science website has a nationwide database that contains greater than 1200 citations for publications directly and indirectly pertaining to recreational water quality intended for access by the general public and scientific community. It is a fully searchable, downloadable bibliography that has been categorized into major study topics.
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