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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. EPA no longer issues these annual reports.
Following is a north-to-south county-by-country discussion for the year 2014 from Heal the Bay's 2015 Beach Report Card.
Del Norte County
Once again, the beach at Battery Point Lighthouse in Crescent City earned A grades for all three time periods this past year. There are no other locations in Del Norte County sampled frequently enough (at least weekly) to receive grades in this report. For additional water quality information: County of Del Norte Environmental Health Division
The Humboldt County Environmental Health Department monitored five (5) locations from Trinidad State Beach near Mill Creek to Mad River on a weekly basis from April through October 2014. Because there was not enough monitoring data collected during the winter dry or wet weather periods to generate a grade, no grades are provided for these timeframes.
Humboldt County earned very good to excellent water quality grades this past year, with four of the five monitored locations receiving A grades. Once again, the county’s only poor water quality grade was at Clam Beach County Park near Strawberry Creek (D grade), which moved up three spots on the Beach Bummer list to earn the No. 3 spot. This is Clam Beach’s second year in a row on the Beach Bummer list. Potential bacteria sources include onsite sewage treatment systems, wildlife, domestic animals, and vegetation.
Sewage Spill Summary
While there were no reported sewage spills in Humboldt County that led to beach closures this past year, there were a number of sewage spills that reached receiving waterbodies (creeks, rivers, streams, sloughs, and bays) that can discharge into the ocean. In Humboldt County, there were approximately 47 total spills from April 2014 through March 2015, with 20 reaching a surface waterbody. Of these 20 spills, three were “major” sewage spills—more than 10,000 gallons, and five were “minor” spills—more than 1,000 gallons but less than 10,000 gallons. The approximate sewage volume spilled into a surface waterbody (dry or wet) was 195,000 gallons.
The Mendocino County Environmental Health Department monitored six (6) locations from Mackerricher State Park at Virgin Creek to Van Damme State Park Beach at the Little River on a weekly basis from April through October 2014. Because there was either no or not enough monitoring data collected during the winter dry or wet weather periods to generate a grade, no grades are provided for these timeframes.
Water quality at the six monitoring locations in Mendocino County during the summer dry weather period was very good with 84% receiving A or B grades. Hare Creek (C) was the only location to receive a grade lower than a B.
Sewage Spill Summary
While there were no reported sewage spills in Mendocino County that led to beach closures this past year, there were a number of sewage spills that reached receiving waterbodies (creeks, rivers, streams, sloughs, and bays) that can discharge into the ocean. In Mendocino County, there were approximately 14 total spills from April 2014 through March 2015, with three reaching a surface waterbody. Of these three spills, only one was “minor” spill—more than 1,000 gallons but less than 10,000 gallons. The approximate sewage volume spilled into a surface waterbody (dry or wet) was 6,017 gallons.
The Sonoma County Environmental Health Department monitored seven (7) locations from Gualala Regional Park Beach to Doran Regional Park Beach on a weekly basis from April through October 2014. Because there was not enough monitoring data collected during the winter dry or wet weather periods to generate a grade, no grades are provided for these timeframes. Sonoma County once again earned excellent summer dry weather water quality grades this year with all A grades, and equaled the five-year county average (97% A or B grades).
Sewage Spill Summary
While there were no reported sewage spills in Sonoma County that led to beach closures this past year, there were a number of sewage spills that reached receiving waterbodies (creeks, rivers, streams, sloughs, and bays) that can discharge into the ocean. In Sonoma County, there were approximately 50 total spills from April 2014 through March 2015, with 28 reaching a surface waterbody and 17 of those prompting health warnings. Of the 28 spills that reached a waterbody, 10 were “major” sewage spills—more than 10,000 gallons, and 7 were “minor” spills—more than 1,000 gallons but less than 10,000 gallons. The approximate sewage volume spilled into a surface waterbody (dry or wet) was 908,000 gallons.
Marin County’s water quality monitoring program gathered data during the summer from 22 bayside and oceanside monitoring locations. Ocean locations included Dillon Beach, Bolinas Beach (Wharf Road), Stinson Beach, Muir Beach, Rodeo Beach and Baker Beach. Bayside locations include Baker Beach, Schoonmaker Beach, China Camp, and McNears Beach. These locations were monitored on a weekly basis from April through October 2014. There was insufficient or no monitoring during the winter dry months and wet weather.
During the summer dry weather season, water quality grades were excellent in Marin County this year, with all 22 monitored locations receiving A grades.
Sewage Spill Summary
There was one reported sewage spill in Marin County that led to a beach closure this past year. This closure took place October 15, 2014 in Richardson Bay near the City of Sausalito, with about 1,000 gallons reaching the water. Unfortunately, there were a number of other sewage spills that reached receiving waterbodies (creeks, rivers, streams, sloughs, and bays) that prompted 22 non-beach related health warnings. In total, there were approximately 173 total spills from April 2014 through March 2015, with 36 reaching a surface waterbody. Of these 36 spills, one was a “major” sewage spill—more than 10,000 gallons, and 13 were “minor” spills—more than 1,000 gallons but less than 10,000 gallons. The approximate sewage volume spilled into a surface waterbody (dry or wet) was 56,000 gallons.
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. Like last year, this year San Francisco County earned good water quality grades during summer dry weather with 79% of locations receiving A or B grades. Only one location failed during the summer peak beach going season, which was Candlestick Point at Sunnydale Cove. Winter dry weather grades surprisingly fared better than the summer dry grades, with 85% receiving A or B grades. This was 15 percentage points higher than last year’s 71%.
Wet weather grades dipped 23% from last year with only 41% of the monitored locations receiving A or B grades. While Windsurfer Circle at Candlestick Point was able to get off the Beach Bummer list after two straight years, Candlestick Point unfortunately added another location to the Bummer list called Sunnydale Cove (No. 7).
Background Information from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission
The City and County of San Francisco have a unique stormwater infrastructure that occurs in no other California coastal county – a combined sewer and storm drain system (CSS). This system provides graduated levels of treatment to San Francisco’s stormwater 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 flow receives full secondary treatment before being discharged through a designated outfall.
However, during heavy rain events, the CSS can occasionally discharge combined treated urban runoff and sewage wastewater, which is typically comprised of 94% treated stormwater and 6% primary treated sanitary flow. In an effort to reduce the number of combined sewer discharges (CSDs), San Francisco 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 seven CSDs, all occurring during rainfall events, which led to a total of 26 beach closures. Five of the seven CSDs took place in December 2014.
San Mateo County
The County of San Mateo Environmental Health Department monitored 21 ocean and bayside locations on a weekly basis year round, from as far upcoast as Sharp Park Beach to a downcoast location at Gazos Creek.
San Mateo County’s summer dry grades were excellent, with 91% of the 21 locations receiving an A or B grade. The Aquatic Park and Lakeshore Park in Marina Lagoon were the only two monitored locations that received F grades for this period. Winter dry weather grades were very good, with 81% receiving A or B grades. Much like the rest of the state during wet weather, water quality plummeted, with 12 of 23 locations (52%) receiving A or B grades. This was down 12 percentage points from last year (64%). This is the third year in a row that San Mateo’s Marina Lagoon (Aquatic Park and Lakeshore Park) has made the Beach Bummer list coming in at No. 4.
Sewage Spill Summary
There were 11 reported sewage spills in San Mateo County that led to beach closures this past year. Overall, there were approximately 203 total spills from April 2014 through March 2015, with 56 reaching a surface waterbody, and prompted 20 health warnings—11 of which were beach closures—in San Mateo County. Of these 56 spills, 13 were “major” sewage spills—more than 10,000 gallons, and 21 were “minor” spills—more than 1,000 gallons but less than 10,000 gallons. The approximate sewage volume spilled into a surface waterbody (dry or wet) was 1.78 million gallons.
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.
Summer dry weather grades were generally very good, with 10 of 13 (77%) monitored locations receiving an A grade in 2014. Two locations failed during the peak beach going season time period, and were both located at Cowell Beach – Lifeguard Tower #1 and west of the Wharf. Winter dry grades were very good as well, with 10 of 13 (77%) receiving A or B grades, which was lower than last year’s 92%. Note: Surfrider Foundation's Santa Cruz Chapter has a Clean Up Cowell's campaign that is working to get Cowell’s beach off the dirtiest beach list (beach bummer list), and get it back to being a healthy beach for residents and tourists alike to enjoy. More info.
As for Santa Cruz County’s wet weather grades, the improvements made last year in water quality were lost this year. The yo-yo effect of 25% (2013) to 85% (2014) to 38% (2015) A or B grades during the wet weather season can most likely be attributed to the variability in rainfall amounts from year-to-year. Rainfall this last year (18.6”) was wetter than the previous year, and almost met the County’s five-year average of 19.4”. This year’s wet weather grades were lower than the five-year county average and the state average.
Sewage Spill Summary
While there were no reported sewage spills in Santa Cruz County that led to beach closures this past year, there were a number of sewage spills that reached receiving waterbodies (creeks, rivers, streams, sloughs, and bays) that can discharge into the ocean. In Santa Cruz County, there were approximately 34 total spills from April 2014 through March 2015, with nine reaching a surface waterbody. Of these nine spills, one was a “major” sewage spill — more than 10,000 gallons, and one was a “minor” spill — more than 1,000 gallons but less than 10,000 gallons. The approximate sewage volume spilled into a surface waterbody (dry or wet) was 23,670 gallons.
The Monterey County Health Department monitored eight locations on a weekly basis from April through October 2014, 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 this year were similar to the previous two years, with 75% of the monitored locations receiving A or B grades. Two of eight locations did not receive a grade of B or higher: the Monterey Municipal Pier (C) and Stillwater Cove (D). Monterey County beaches were not monitored frequently enough during the winter dry and wet weather periods to receive a grade for those time periods. Stillwater Cove once again joined the Beach Bummer list, moving down two spots to No. 7. 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.
Sewage Spill Summary
There was one reported sewage spill in Monterey County that led to beach closure this past year. This closure event took place on October 29, 2014 near Fisherman’s Wharf #1, along the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail. There were no other reported sewage spills that led to beach closures, yet there were a number of spills that reached receiving waterbodies (creeks, rivers, streams, sloughs, and bays) that can discharge into the ocean. In Monterey County, there were approximately 85 total spills from April 2014 through March 2015, with 18 reaching a surface waterbody that prompted 2 health warnings (one beach and one non-beach). Of these 18 spills, there were no (0) “major” sewage spills—more than 10,000 gallons, and three “minor” spills—more than 1,000 gallons but less than 10,000 gallons. The approximate sewage volume spilled into a surface waterbody (dry or wet) was 12,500 gallons.
San Luis Obispo County
San Luis Obispo County Environmental Health Services monitored 19 locations year round 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.
Summer dry weather water quality grades in San Luis Obispo County were excellent this past year with 100% A or B grades—17 As and 2 Bs. This was one of the best years on record for water quality in San Luis Obispo. Compared to last year’s 94% A grades, water quality during winter dry weather this year was unfortunately lower, with only 68% receiving A grades. Four locations received fair to poor marks: Olde Port Beach-Hanford Beach (D), Avila Beach @ San Juan St. (C), Avila Beach @ San Luis St. (F), and Sewers at Silver Shoals Dr. (C). Surprisingly, wet weather grades were excellent with 100% A or B grades this year showing a marked improvement over last year’s 95% and bested the five-year county average by 13% (83% A or B grades) and 38% above the statewide average (62% A or B grades).
Sewage Spill Summary
While there were no reported sewage spills in San Luis Obispo County that led to beach closures this past year, there were a number of sewage spills that reached receiving waterbodies (creeks, rivers, streams, sloughs, and bays) that can discharge into the ocean. In San Luis Obispo County, there were approximately 31 total spills from April 2014 through March 2015, with nine reaching a surface waterbody that generated one non-beach related health warning. Of these nine spills, there were no (0) “major” sewage spills—more than 10,000 gallons, and one “minor” spill—more than 1,000 gallons but less than 10,000 gallons. The approximate sewage volume spilled into a surface waterbody (dry or wet) was 3,900 gallons.
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 furthest 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.
For the another year in a row, Santa Barbara displayed excellent water quality grades, with 100% A grades during summer dry weather. Regrettably, the same could not be said for winter dry weather. Unlike last year’s 94% A or B grades, this year’s mark of 81% was very good, however slightly disappointing. As for wet weather water quality, 88% of the monitored locations received an A or B grade. Only two locations in the County received fair to poor marks for wet weather: East Beach at Mission Creek (F) and Sands at Coal Oil Point (C). The wet weather grades bested the five-year county average by 27% and the statewide average by 25%.
Sewage Spill Summary
While there were no reported sewage spills in Santa Barbara County that led to beach closures this past year, there were a number of sewage spills that reached receiving waterbodies (creeks, rivers, streams, sloughs, and bays) that can discharge into the ocean. In Santa Barbara County, there were approximately 59 total spills from April 2014 through March 2015, with six reaching a surface waterbody that generated two non-beach related health warnings. Of these six spills, there were no (0) “major” sewage spills—more than 10,000 gallons, and two “minor” spills—more than 1,000 gallons but less than 10,000 gallons. The approximate sewage volume spilled into a surface waterbody (dry or wet) was 13,500 gallons.
The County of Ventura Environmental Health Division monitored 39 locations weekly from April through October 2014 (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.
Once again, summer dry water quality grades were excellent this past year, with 100% of locations receiving A grades. Winter dry were also excellent with 92% receiving an A. The only location that failed during the winter dry period was Channel Islands Harbor-Beach Park. As for wet weather, 89% of the 27 monitored locations in Ventura County received an A or B grade. Three locations received a C or lower grade: Channel Islands Harbor-Hobie Beach (C), Channel Islands Harbor-Beach Park (F), and Ormond Beach-J Street Drain (D). This year Ventura County bested its five-year average during winter dry and wet weather and beat the statewide average for all three time periods.
Sewage Spill Summary
There was one reported sewage spill on October 30th that led to the closure of a private beach along Solimar Beach. Beyond this one closure, there were no other reported sewage spills that led to beach closures, yet there were a number of sewage spills that reached receiving waterbodies (creeks, rivers, streams, sloughs, and bays) that can discharge into the ocean. In Ventura County, there were approximately 33 total spills from April 2014 through March 2015, with six reaching a surface waterbody resulting in 4 health warnings (one beach and three non-beach). Of these 18 spills, there was one “major” sewage spill— more than 10,000 gallons, and one “minor” spill—more than 1,000 gallons but less than 10,000 gallons. The approximate sewage volume spilled into a surface waterbody (dry or wet) was 21,245 gallons
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, where the discharge meets the ocean. 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.
Summer dry weather water quality in Los Angeles was excellent with 94% A or B grades, up 4% from last year’s 90%. This year’s winter dry water quality was also very good with 79% A or B grades (meeting the five-year average). Wet weather water quality continues to be an area of concern statewide. Wet weather grades in Los Angeles are no exception, with only 42% A or B grades. This is lower than last year’s 50%, and continues the downward wet weather beach grade trend started last year. Los Angeles County’s percentage of wet weather A or B grades (62%) continues to be consistently lower than the statewide average of A or B grades.
Once again, Los Angeles County is host to three of the 10 beaches on the statewide Beach Bummer list this year: Cabrillo Beach harborside (No. 9), Santa Monica Municipal Pier (No. 6), and Marina del Rey Mother’s Beach (No. 2).
During dry weather, the City of Long Beach continues to show improved beach water quality. This past year, summer dry weather A grades were a perfect 100% (15 sites), besting the five-year average by 16% (71% A or B grades). Winter dry weather grades also maintained near perfection as well, with 100% of locations earning A or B grades – 13 As and 2 Bs. However, no other geographic location presented such a stark dichotomy between dry weather and wet weather grades than in Long Beach. Whereas 100% of the monitored locations received A grades in summer dry weather, the opposite was true for wet weather, with 100% of them receiving F grades. Not one monitored location was safe for swimming when there was a storm event. The location of Long Beach, situated between two of the largest rivers (Los Angeles and San Gabriel River) in Los Angeles County, likely contributes greatly to these problematic wet weather grades.
Sewage Spill Summary
In Los Angeles County, there were approximately 430 total spills from April 2014 through March 2015, with 116 reaching a surface waterbody that prompted 5 health warnings (one ocean and four non-ocean water). Though a beach closure may not be issued for every spill, the volume spilled can still impact receiving waterbodies (creeks, rivers, streams, sloughs, and bays), and affect ocean water quality at a later time. Of the 116 spills that reached a surface waterbody, two were “major” sewage spills—more than 10,000 gallons, and 27 were “minor” spills—more than 1,000 gallons but less than 10,000 gallons. Overall, the approximate sewage volume spilled into a surface waterbody (dry or wet) was 143,185 gallons.
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, har- bor, and bay beaches, as well as near flowing storm drains, creeks and rivers. Samples were generally not collected at point zero (at drainage outlet) but instead at a distance from the potential pollution source.
Orange County grades for summer dry weather this past year were excellent – 96 of 101 locations (95%) 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, 88% of the monitored beaches (94 locations) received A or B grades, with 11 locations earning C or lower 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 a new low with only 49% of the monitored locations receiving an A or B grade. Beach grades during wet weather season were notably lower than the county’s five-year average of 63% A or B grades for wet weather. In fact, they were almost as many F grades (376) as there were A grades (41) confronting surfers and divers who braved the waters during wet weather this year.
Sewage Spill Summary
In Orange County, there were approximately 93 total spills from April 2014 through March 2015, with 41 reaching a surface waterbody that prompted 8 health warnings/closures. Of the 41 spills that reached a surface waterbody, two were “major” sewage spills—more than 10,000 gallons, and 11 were “minor” spills—more than 1,000 gallons but less than 10,000 gallons. Overall, the approximate sewage volume spilled into a surface waterbody (dry or wet) was 79,830 gallons.
In July 2015 Orange County Health Care Agency published a 2012/2013/2014 Triennial Ocean, Harbor and Bay Water Quality Report. This report provides an updated analysis of bacteriological water quality data for Orange County’s recreational waters and includes data on sewage spills and related ocean, harbor and bay water closures. The triennial report also describes year-to-year variability and trends representing the 15-year period (2000 – 2014) that Assembly Bill 411 (AB 411) Ocean Water- Contact Sports Standards for bacteriological water quality have been in place. In addition, the triennial report incorporates historical sewage spill and associated ocean, harbor and bay water closure information during the most recent 28-year period from 1987 – 2014.
Following are the report's major findings:
Sewage Spills and Ocean, Harbor and Bay Water Closures
Posted Warnings Due to Bacteriological Standards Violations
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 72 monitoring locations in San Diego County was excellent with 93% (67) of the monitoring locations receiving an A grade. The County’s water quality during winter dry weather was also excellent with 27 of 29 (93%) monitoring locations receiving A grades. Unfortunately, the number of beach locations regularly sampled during non-summer dry weather ocean monitoring continues to decrease. There is a 60% drop in the number of locations monitored during the winter dry months compared to summer.
San Diego continues to meet their average of the previous five years during dry weather. However, the percentage of wet weather A or B grades (82%) was up 15 percentage points from the previous year and easily outshined the county’s five-year average (by 87%) and this year’s statewide average (by 10%).
Sewage Spill Summary
In San Diego County, sewage spills are generally separated into two categories, 1) those caused by the Tijuana River, and 2) all others. This year the Tijuana River resulted in 15 separate closure events with different distances—the international border fence all the way up to Imperial Beach—and durations—a couple of days to a month.
As for the “others,” there were eight beach closures due to sewage spills. Overall, there were approximately 149 reported total sewage spills from April 2014 through March 2015, of which 17 reached a surface waterbody, prompting 8 health warnings/closures. Of the 17 sewage spills that reached a surface waterbody, one was a “major” sewage spill—more than 10,000 gallons, and one was a “minor” spill— more than 1,000 gallons but less than 10,000 gallons. In total, about 20,675 gallons sewage reached a surface waterbody (dry or wet) from these spills.
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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