State of the Beach/State Reports/CA/Water Quality

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Water Quality Monitoring Program

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 2012, the total fund available for BEACH Act grants was $9.8 million. Funding beyond 2012 is in jeopardy, since EPA's budget request for this program in FY2013 was ZERO (money for testing in 2013 was ultimately allocated as part of a Continuing Resolution to resolve the Federal Budget impasse) and there is also no money for beach testing in the FY2014 budget. 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 $506,000 grant in 2012.

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 2013.

NRDC ranked California 20th in Beachwater Quality (out of 30 states). 8% of samples exceeded national standards for designated beach areas in 2012.

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.

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:

"Any duty imposed upon a local public officer or agency pursuant to this section shall be mandatory only during a fiscal year in which the Legislature has appropriated sufficient funds, as determined by the State Director of Health Services, in the annual Budget Act or otherwise for local agencies to cover the costs to those agencies associated with the performance of these duties."

The legislature did not appropriate "sufficient funds" during 2009 to through 2011.

Water Quality Challenges and Improvements

Curbing Pollution from Dry-Weather Runoff

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.

Same-Day Notification Studies

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.

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.

Bacterial Pollution Reductions Required in Long Beach

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.

Predictive Modeling

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.

Trash Pollution

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 27,000 samples were collected in 2012.

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.

Closings and Advisories

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:

  • For total coliform, the single-sample standard is 1,000 cfu/100 ml if the ratio of fecal/total coliform bacteria exceeds 0.1. Otherwise, the single-sample standard for total coliform is 10,000 cfu/100 ml. The total coliform geometric mean standard is 1,000 cfu/100 ml, calculated from at least five equally spaced samples collected in a 30-day period.
  • For fecal coliform, the single-sample standard is 400 cfu/100 ml and the standard for the geometric mean of at least five evenly spaced samples collected in a 30-day period is 200 cfu/100 ml. In some jurisdictions, E. coli is used as a surrogate for fecal coliform; the standard is the same as for fecal coliform.
  • For enterococcus, the single-sample standard is 104 cfu/100 ml and the standard for the geometric mean of at least five equally spaced samples collected in a 30-day period is 35 cfu/100 ml.

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.

Source Investigation and Identification

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.

Water Quality Contact

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

Beach Closures

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:

  • Los Angeles (562) 570-4199
  • Mendocino (707) 234-6627
  • Monterey (800) 347-6363
  • Orange (714) 433-6400
  • San Diego (619) 338-2073
  • San Luis Obispo (805) 781-5544
  • Santa Barbara (805) 681-4949
  • Santa Cruz (831) 454-3188
  • San Francisco (877) 732-3224
  • Sonoma (707) 565-6552
  • Ventura (805) 662-6555

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:

  • Can I swim at my beach, lake, or stream?
  • How clean was my beach, lake, or stream during the past week or month?
  • What are the long-term trends at my beach, lake, or stream?
  • Which beaches, lakes, and streams are currently closed by county health agencies?
  • Which beaches, lakes, and streams are listed by the State as impaired?
  • Are the problems getting better?

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 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.

NRDC reported:

Total closing/advisory days for 1,234 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less decreased 5% to 5,515 days in 2012 from 5,794 days in 2011. For prior years, there were 5,756 days in 2010, 2,904 days in 2009, and 4,133 days in 2008. In addition, there were 28 extended events (1,231 days total) and 5 permanent events (1,069 days total) in 2012. Extended events are those in effect more than six weeks but not more than 13 consecutive weeks; permanent events are in effect for more than 13 consecutive weeks. For the 1,234 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less, 92% (5,056) of closing/advisory days were due to monitoring that revealed elevated bacteria levels, 4% (209) were preemptive due to heavy rainfall, and 5% (250) were preemptive due to known sewage spills or leaks. This analysis includes all reported county-wide rain advisory events. However, the county-wide rain advisories are not represented in the beach-specific California 2012 Monitoring Results and Closings/Advisory Days table because they are reported only at the county level.

Beach Closure Data

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.

The following data is from NRDC's annual Testing the Waters report.

Year Advisories/Closures
2012 5515
2011 5794
2010 5756
2009 2904
2008 4133
2007 4736
2006 4644
2005 5199
2004 3985
2003 5384
2002 4553
2001 6568
2000 5780

Source: NRDC, 2013

NRDC reported:

In 2012, California reported 715 coastal beaches and beach segments, of which 66 (9%) were assigned a monitoring frequency of more than once a week, 331 (46%) once a week, 66 (9%) every other week, 26 (4%) once a month, and 15 (2%) less than once a month; 211 (30%) were not assigned a monitoring frequency. NRDC considered a sample on a given day at a given beach station to be an exeedance if any one of California's bacterial standards was exceeded. (Please note that even if all bacterial standards were exceeded for a sample taken on a given day at a given station, NRDC counted that as one exceedance. For example, if a sample exceeded the enterococcus, E. Coli, and total coliform standards for a sample taken on a given day, NRDC counted that as one exceedance, not three Also note that in determining California's national beachwater quality ranking, NRDC analyzed results based on the single-sample maximum BEACH Act standard of 104 cfu/100 ml enterococcus.)

In 2012, 10% of all reported beachwater monitoring samples exceeded the state's daily maximum bacterial standards. The beaches with the highest percent exceedance rates of the daily maximum standards in 2012 were Avalon Beach 50 feet west of the Green Pleasure Pier in Los Angeles County (83%), Poche County Beach in Orange County (67%), Aquatic Park (63%) and Pillar Point-Capistrano (52%) in San Mateo County, and Avalon Beach east of the Casino Arch at the steps in Los Angeles County (50%). Contra Costa County had the highest exceedance rate of the daily maximum standards in 2012 (17%), followed by San Mateo (16%), Los Angeles (16%), San Francisco (15%), Humboldt (12%), Santa Cruz (11%), Alameda (10%), Orange (9%), Monterey (8%), San Luis Obispo (7%), Santa Barbara (7%), San Diego (4%), Ventura (4%), Marin (3%), Mendocino (2%), and Sonoma (2%). NRDC considers all reported samples individually (without averaging) when calculating the percent exceedance rates in this analysis. This includes duplicate samples and samples taken outside the official beach season, if any.

Following is a county-by-country discussion for the year 2012 from Heal the Bay's 2013 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
The County of Humboldt Division of Environmental Health monitored five locations this past year from April through October. Water quality samples at outlet beaches were taken directly in the mixing zone (point zero). This monitoring program is funded solely by the Environmental Protection Agency’s National BEACH Program.

Humboldt County earned very good water quality grades this past year with all five monitoring locations receiving A or B grades, besting the county’s five-year average of 92% A or B grades. Monitoring locations were not sampled frequently enough during winter to receive grades for any other time period.

Mendocino County
The Mendocino County Division of Environmental Health monitored three locations at least weekly during summer dry weather this past year: Pudding Creek ocean outlet, Big River near Pacific Coast Highway and Van Damme State Park at the Little River. All three beaches received an A grade for the summer dry weather time period. Three other beaches were monitored sporadically throughout last summer, but not consistently enough to be included in this report. This monitoring program is funded solely by the Environmental Protection Agency’s National BEACH Program.

Sonoma County
The County of Sonoma Department of Health Services monitored seven locations this past year from as far upcoast as Gualala Regional Park Beach to a downcoast location at Doran Regional Park Beach in Bodega Bay. Samples were collected 25 yards north or south of the mouth of a storm drain or creek throughout the summer.

Stillwater Cove Regional Park Beach and Campbell Cove State Park Beach (the only Sonoma County locations to be monitored year-round) were monitored about twice per month throughout the winter but not frequently enough to earn a grade for the winter dry time period in this report.

Sonoma County earned excellent water quality grades this year with seven monitoring locations receiving A grades during summer dry and wet weather (both better than the five-year average of 93% and 94%, respectively).

Marin County
Marin County’s water quality monitoring program gathered data during the summer from 24 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. There was little or no monitoring during the winter months.

Water quality was excellent at all beach monitoring locations in Marin County. All locations in Marin County received A grades during the summer dry weather time period.

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, from Aquatic Park Beach (Hyde Street Pier) to Ocean Beach at Sloat Boulevard, and three sites at Candlestick Point.

San Francisco County’s overall water quality grades this past year during summer dry weather were very good, though lower than in our last report, with 12 of 14 (86%) monitoring locations receiving A or B grades this past year, compared to 100% the year before. The two locations that scored lower than a B grade during summer dry weather were at Baker Beach Lobos Creek (C grade) and Candlestick Point Windsurfer Circle (C grade); the latter earning the No. 9 spot on the list of statewide Beach Bummers in this year’s report. The location’s adjacent storm drain serves the stadium area and may be contributing to the beach’s poor water quality.

Winter dry weather water quality was fair with 10 of 14 (71%) of locations receiving A or B grades. Poor grades in San Francisco County during winter dry weather were at: Aquatic Park Beach 211 Station (F grade), Candlestick Point Windsurfer Circle (F grade), and Candlestick Point Sunnydale Cove (D grade).

The percentage of A and B grades during wet weather water quality in San Francisco County was only 43% this past year (down from 79% in our last report) and 21% below the county’s five-year average.

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, treated CSDs occurred during heavy rainfall on 10 separate dates in San Francisco. Three of the CSDs affected Baker Beach and China Beach; eight occurred at Ocean Beach and Fort Funston; and one occurred at Candlestick Point State Recreation Area.

San Mateo County
The County of San Mateo Environmental Health 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. Eighteen of these locations were monitored year round and earned grades for all time periods.

San Mateo County beaches had excellent summer dry weather water quality this past year. Twenty-one of 23 (91%) beach monitoring locations received A or B grades during this time period. The county’s only poor grades during summer dry weather were at Aquatic Park (F grade) and Lakeshore Park (D grade). As a result these two Marina Lagoon beaches share the No. 6 spot on this year’s statewide Beach Bummer list. The residual effects from a December 2012 sewage spill likely contributed to Marina Lagoon’s poor water quality grades.

The number of A and B grades during wet weather in San Mateo slipped 27% from our last report to 44% this past year (25% below the state average of 69% A or B grades during wet weather).

Sewage Spill Summary
There were three known sewage spills that led to beach closures in San Mateo County this past year. Both Lakeshore Park and Aquatic Park on the Marina Lagoon were closed on Dec. 3, 2012 due to a sewer overflow. Lakeshore Park was re-opened on Jan. 2, 2013 and Aquatic Park remained closed through the end of the timeframe of this report (reopened May 1, 2013) due to lingering elevated bacteria levels. The beach at the end of West Point Avenue in outer Pillar Point Harbor was closed for 13 days beginning on Dec. 27, 2012 due to a sewage spill at West Point and Princeton Avenue. Also in outer Pillar Point Harbor, the beach at Capistrano Beach was closed as a precaution on March 19, 2013 for five days due to elevated bacteria levels that the health department has investigated as potentially impacted by a sewage release.

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.

Ten of the 13 (77%) beaches in Santa Cruz County received A grades during the summer dry weather period this past year. Capitola Beach west of the jetty scored a fair grade (C grade) during the summer dry period, with poor grades at Cowell Beach at the wharf (F grade) and Cowell Beach Lifeguard Tower (F grade).

Winter dry weather grades in Santa Cruz County were excellent overall with only one location receiving lower than a B grade: Capitola Beach west of the jetty (D grade), which also has a history of chronically polluted beach water. Potential pollution sources are currently under investigation.

The number of wet weather A and B grades was dramatically lower this past year, with only three of 12 locations (verses 10 in last year’s report) receiving A or B grades.

Cowell Beach
This is Cowell Beach’s fourth consecutive year on the Beach Bummer list, claiming the No. 2 most polluted spot for the second year in a row. In 2010, researchers from Stanford University initiated a Source Identification Protocol Project (SIPP) at Cowell Beach, in hopes of tracking sources leading to poor beach water quality at this location. Researchers found a buried pipe in the sand that contained high levels of human-associated bacteria. The bacteria source was tracked to a toilet in an apartment building, flushing directly into the stormdrain. Other likely sources of pollution include open defecation from a prevalent homeless population and a large bird population at the wharf. The Santa Cruz City Council has approved a motion to address Cowell’s chronic pollution problem including the following action items:

1) Requesting regular water quality reports from the county, which outline potential impacts to city beaches and watersheds.
2) Directing the Transportation and Public Works Commission to review and make recommendations towards reducing illegal stormdrain discharges, implementing RV parking permit programs or new disposal sites, and additional water quality monitoring.
3) Developing an action plan to address illegal encampments and their detrimental environmental effects.

The City of Santa Cruz is also making efforts to survey sewer laterals and has applied for CBI funding to retrofit stormdrain pipes to better protect against illicit sewage discharges.

Sewage Spill Summary
There were no reported sewage spills in Santa Cruz County that led to beach closures this past year.

Monterey County
The Monterey County Health Department monitored eight locations on a weekly basis from April through October, from as far upcoast as the Monterey Beach Hotel at Roberts Lake in Seaside to a downcoast location of Carmel City Beach in Carmel by the Sea.

During the summer dry weather period this past year, six of the eight (75%) monitoring locations in Monterey County received A or B grades. Both Stillwater Cove and Lover’s Point Park received C grades for the same time period. The number of wet weather A and B grades was down 28% from our last report to 60% this past year. San Carlos Beach Park (F grade) and Lover’s Point Park (F grade) were the only beaches to score lower than a B during wet weather this past year.

Monterey beaches were not monitored frequently enough (at least weekly) throughout the winter to earn grades for the winter dry weather period.

Sewage Spill Summary
There were no reported sewage spills in Monterey County that led to beach closures this past year.

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).

Dry weather water quality in San Luis Obispo this past year was excellent, with 95% of monitoring locations receiving A or B grades during both the summer and winter dry weather time periods. Only one location received below an A or B grade during summer and winter dry weather, Olde Port Beach (C grades).

The number of A and B grades during wet weather was down 5% from our last report with 84% this past year. This was slightly better (2%) than the county’s five-year average (82% A or B grades) and 15% above the state average for A or B grades. Cayucos State Beach, between Cayucos Creek and the Pier (D grade), Avila Beach projection of San Juan Street (D grade) and Avila Beach projection of San Luis Street (C grade) were the only locations in the county to score lower than an A or B grade during wet weather this past year.

Sewage Spill Summary
There were two sewage spills in San Luis Obispo County that resulted in beach closures this past year. The first was a spill of about 600 gallons on July 24, 2012 that resulted in the precautionary closure of Shell Beach for 24 hours. The second spill was approximately 1,000 gallons on Oct. 26, 2012 due to a blockage that resulted in ocean water closure of Port San Luis and Avila Beach for two days.

Santa Barbara County
The County of Santa Barbara Environmental Health Agency monitored 16 locations on a weekly basis from year-round, from as far upcoast as Guadalupe Dunes (south of the Santa Maria River outside the City of Guadalupe) to a downcoast location at Carpinteria State Beach.

Summer dry weather water quality in Santa Barbara was excellent, with all 15 monitoring locations receiving A or B grades (88% A grades), besting the county’s five-year average of A and B grades by three percent. All locations also received A or B grades during winter dry weather, besting the county’s five-year average by nine percent. Leadbetter Beach was the only beach to receive a grade below an A or B (over all three time periods) earning a C grade during wet weather.

Arroyo Burro Beach improved to a B grade this past summer (up from a C grade in our last report and the No. 7 spot on the Beach Bummer list in our 2011 report). East Beach at Mission Creek had excellent water quality during all three time periods this past year and improved to A+ and B grades from D and F grades for the winter dry and wet weather time periods.

Santa Barbara’s number of wet weather A and B grades was up to 94% this past year (up a drastic 54% from our last report), and bested the county’s five-year average by 51% and state average by 25%. Improved beach water quality throughout Santa Barbara has followed aggressive water quality improvement projects and research. 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, as well as lagoon habitat restoration. In addition, near-record-low rainfall in Southern California this past winter also likely contributed to the improved grades.

Sewage Spill Summary
There was one sewage spill of approximately 6,600 gallons (due to a root blockage) that resulted in the closure of Leadbetter Beach for four days beginning on Dec. 3, 2012.

Ventura County
The County of Ventura Environmental Health Division monitored 40 locations weekly from April through October (20 locations were monitored year round), from Rincon to the southern end of Ormond Beach.

Summer dry weather water quality at Ventura County beaches this past year was excellent. Only one location received a poor grade during the wet weather period, Hobie Beach (F grade). The county’s grades during winter dry and wet weather bested its previous five-year averages, with the summer dry grades tying the perfect five-year average of 100% A grades.

In July 2010, the Regional Water Board adopted a new Ventura County Municipal Storm Water Permit. It was the first time that such a permit was adopted with all applicable TMDL limits and implementation requirements. It also includes required weekly yearround monitoring of 10 Ventura County beaches near storm drains, creeks and other potential sources of fecal bacteria. This can serve as an important model for future permit development in ensuring the continuation of beach water quality monitoring regardless of the status of state and/or federal funding. The Ventura Countywide Stormwater Quality Program is making great strides in tracking bacteria exceedances and addressing stormwater flows through the development and implementation of BMPs including low-impact development and diversion projects. Also, as a part of the county’s permit, the implementation of an Illicit Connections and Discharges Program have led to over 350 enforcement actions in order to eliminate these illegal activities.

There were two beach water quality-related Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEP) in Ventura County over the past year. First, SCCWRP led a Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment (QMRA) case study in Ventura in order to determine if site-specific risk modeling could be accomplished. See page 52 for more information on the QMRA case study.

Also as a SEP initiative, the City of Ventura applied $298,500 of the penalties assessed to construct the Oak Street Urban Runoff Diversion Project. The project will capture low flow runoff from approximately 109 acres of watershed, including much of Ventura’s downtown. The project’s construction was recently completed ahead of schedule and will be online and fully functioning before this summer. 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:

  • City of Los Angeles’ Environmental Monitoring Division (EMD) at the Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant provided daily or weekly beach data for 36 locations.
  • The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Environmental Health program monitored 30 locations on a weekly basis.
  • Los Angeles County Sanitation District monitored eight locations weekly.
  • City of Long Beach, Environmental Health Division, monitored 15 (down from 25 historically) locations on a weekly basis.
  • The City of Redondo Beach solely monitored two locations, in addition to gathering supplemental data at five EMD sites.

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 two percent this past year to 84% (up 9% from two years ago), and better than the county’s five year average of 80%. Huge stretches of beaches scored A or B grades this past summer from Carbon Beach at Sweetwater Canyon in Malibu all the way to the Herondo Street drain in the South Bay. The South Bay saw mostly excellent water quality during the summer months from Dockweiler Beach to Cabrillo Beach (oceanside). All South Bay beaches received A or B grades with the exception of Redondo Municipal Pier (south side) and Redondo State Beach at Topaz Street, which both received C grades for summer dry weather.

Overall Santa Monica Bay summer dry water quality was excellent, and A and B grades were up 6% from our last report with 92% of beaches (from Leo Carrillo to Palos Verdes) receiving A or B grades. This is slightly better than the five-year average of 91% A or B grades for summer dry weather.

Winter dry weather water quality in Los Angeles County was good with 74 out of 86 monitoring locations (86%) receiving A or B grades and besting the county’s five-year average by 16%.

The number of A and B grades in Los Angeles County during wet weather was dramatically higher this past year with 57% of beaches receiving A or B grades (a 23% increase from last year and besting the five-year average by 24%). Eighteen of 84 (21%) of sample sites received F grades this past year during wet weather compared to 42 out of 86 (49%) in our last report. Wet weather water quality in Los Angeles also bested the five-year statewide average by two percent. This past rainy season was one of the driest on record, which lead to less polluted stormwater runoff, and typically boded well for Southern California beachgoers.

Though Los Angeles County grades were up this past year across the board, they still fell short (by as much as 12%) compared to the statewide average for each of the 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, the beaches at Avalon and Cabrillo (harborside at restrooms) had very poor water quality again this year even though storm drains are not a major contributor to pollution at these locations.

Malibu Pier
Malibu Pier makes its Beach Bummer debut this year taking the No. 5 slot. After several site visits by Heal the Bay, no obvious pollution sources were identified on or near the pier. Bacterial exceedances at this location appear to be seasonal. Heal the Bay plans to work with local agencies to monitor and implement source tracking at this location if the high bacteria levels return this summer.

Redondo Pier
This is not Redondo Pier’s first appearance on the infamous Beach Bummer list as it made its debut in 2005.

According to a 2010 Source Identification Study led by the Los Angeles County Sanitation District, definitive pollution sources potentially affecting Redondo Pier’s water quality were never identified. However based on the study’s recommendations, the City of Redondo Beach installed four permanent no swimming signs (two on each side of the pier) and is implementing weekly trash pick-ups on and under the pier in order to reduce debris and other potential sources of bacteria. The city plans on following up with additional source tracking studies in order to pin-point potential pollution sources.

After a recent inspection by the L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board, the City of Redondo Beach replaced a faulty sewer pipe coupling under the pier. The Regional Board also noted a flowing storm drain that could be a pollution source, as there is no low flow diversion installed at this location. We encourage the city to be aggressive in their source mitigation efforts in order improve the Pier’s inconsistent beach water quality.

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 in the intertidal zone, removal of the rock jetty, installation of water circulation pumps, and installation of bird exclusion devices. With more than $15 million invested in improving water quality at Cabrillo’s harborside, the beach is still violating TMDL limits.

The City of Los Angeles is currently working on the following projects:

  • Installation of seven more bird exclusion posts next to the water edge to prevent birds from landing on the beach. These were scheduled to be completed by the end of April 2013
  • Investigation of two drains located near the boat ramp to determine any adverse impact on water quality
  • Implementation of a Natural Source Exclusion (NSE) study

According to the Santa Monica Bay Beaches Bacteria TMDL, NSE-based criteria can be applied to sites where source identification studies show no or minimal human contamination. This approach should only be considered as a last-ditch effort and only implemented after all anthropogenic sources of bacteria have been eliminated.

Malibu Civic Center - Update
In July 2011, the Regional Board entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the City of Malibu to implement the previously adopted septic prohibition in the Malibu Civic Center area. The Regional Board had previously found that wastewater from commercial and residential septic systems in the Civic Center area leaches into Malibu Creek and Lagoon and then flows into the ocean, placing public health at risk. Earlier this year, the City of Malibu presented at a public hearing to the Regional Board that they are nine months behind in the agreed-upon schedule to develop an environmental impact report for their water recycling facility. The city has begun various other steps required in the MOU. Heal the Bay will continue to track this process closely and advocate for Malibu maintaining its compliance schedule.

The Los Angeles County Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) stormwater permit, though years overdue was adopted by the Los Angeles Regional Board last fall. However, beach-goers may be at risk by the permit’s weakened water quality protections.

Avalon Beach
Four out of five monitoring locations at Avalon Beach received an F grade for summer dry weather with the remaining location receiving a D grade. Although all five monitoring locations consistently exceed state bacteria standards, the City of Avalon has made strides towards improving beach water quality. These efforts are partially in response to the TMDL and Cease and Desist Order (CDO) adopted due to Avalon’s chronic beach water quality issues. Over the past couple of years the city has focused on identifying and replacing corroded sewer infrastructure, updating the wastewater treatment plant and streamlining routine sewer and treatment plant maintenance. Though these improvements were long overdue, Heal the Bay remains positive and anticipates greatly improved beach water quality at Avalon Beach, hopefully as soon as this summer.

Long Beach
In 2010-2011, Long Beach’s Colorado Lagoon earned a spot on the Beach Bummer list due to consistently poor water quality. On March 16, 2010 the State Board allocated $1,799,803 towards the Colorado Lagoon Restoration Project. In April 2011, due to widespread sediment contamination, the State Board approved the city’s request for an additional $3.3 million from the Cleanup and Abatement Account. The primary goals of the project were to dredge and remove sediment and revegetate portions of the lagoon with native plants. Phase one of the project, which includes storm water diversions, dredging of contaminated sediments, trash traps and bioswales was completed in August 2012. Phase two will create an open channel to Marine Stadium that will aid in circulation to the Lagoon. The City of Long Beach is currently securing funds to pursue this next phase of the project.

The City of Long Beach has made significant efforts to locate pollution sources and improve water quality. As a result of their efforts, the Colorado Lagoon dropped off of the Beach Bummer list in 2012. Colorado Lagoon’s two monitoring locations received A grades during winter dry weather in this report, but due to lagoon dredging from January through August 2012, were not sampled enough year round this past year to receive grades for any other time period.

Overall, Long Beach’s summer dry weather A and B grades were down 16% from our last report to 77% this past year. However, this is 15% higher than the five year average for Long Beach. Winter dry weather grades were remarkable with 100% of locations earning A grades – 53% higher than Long Beach’s five-year average.

Extensive studies throughout the city have demonstrated that the Los Angeles River, an enormous pollution source because of its 100-plus square mile drainage, is the predominant source of fecal bacteria to Long Beach waters. However, wet weather water quality jumped to 46% A or B grades this past year, a dramatic improvement over the five-year average of 0% A or B grades. This dramatic increase is at least partially due to record-low rainfall this past year, but overall, Long Beach water quality appears to be trending in the right direction

Sewage Spill Summary
There were 13 sewage spills to waterways in Los Angeles County this past year but only two of these resulted in beach closures. The largest spill in the county was an estimated 8,222 gallons that spilled across the street from the Ballona Wetlands and less than two miles from the beach. We are concerned that Los Angeles County Department of Public Health determined that the overflow did not even warrant a precautionary closure at Ballona Creek outlet, despite this potential health threat.

The first spill resulting in beach closures occurred on May 12, 2012 and involved over 5,000 gallons of sewage into a reach of the L.A. River. Beaches west of the Belmont Pier in Long Beach were closed for five days until bacteria tests returned to safe swimming levels. The other beach closure in Los Angeles County affected Alamitos Bay beginning Sept. 30, 2012. Approximately 1,000 gallons of sewage was released into the Cerritos Channel prompting the City of Long Beach Health Department to close Mother’s Beach and other bayside locations for six days.

Orange County
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 (93% A or B grades). Poche Beach and portions of Doheny State Beach displayed the county’s only poor water quality grades during the summer dry weather time period. During winter dry weather 86% of the year round monitored beaches received A or B grades.

All six monitoring sites between Doheny State Beach and 3,000 feet south of San Juan Creek received D or F grades during the winter dry months and during wet weather. Other poor grades during winter dry weather were found at Poche Beach (D grade) and in Newport Bay at Newport Dunes’ west side (F grade) near the rental boat dock.

Wet weather water quality in Orange County this past year was up 4% from our last report with 73% of monitoring locations receiving A or B grades during wet weather compared to 69% in 2011-2012.

Orange County once again displayed excellent summer dry weather water quality grades despite being four percentage points below the dry weather five-year average (97% A or B grades) with 93% A or B grades this past year. Winter dry weather was also good with 86% A or B grades, right on par with the five-year average.

Poche Beach
Poche Beach claims the No. 3 spot on this year’s Beach Bummer list, making its sixth consecutive appearance on the infamous list.

Due to Poche’s chronically high bacteria levels, the Poche Clean Beach Project (CBP) started in July 2010. Results showed that treating and rerouting urban runoff (to the ocean rather than into the scour pond) had little to no effect on improving beach water quality. Further research revealed a positive correlation between surf zone samples and seagull-specific bacterial markers, prompting the County to install an ultrasonic device this past winter, in an attempt to deter hundreds of birds from Poche’s scour pond. Heal the Bay is encouraged by Poche Beach’s weekly A grades so far this spring and anticipates consistently improved water quality at this location.

Doheny State Beach
Doheny State Beach is no stranger to the Beach Bummer list and this year it takes the No. 7 spot, based on two chronically polluted monitoring locations (North Beach and 2,000 feet south of the outfall). In January 2012, the article Using Rapid Indicators for Enterococcus to Assess the Risk of Illness after Exposure to Urban Runoff Contaminated Marine Water was published in Water Research. This paper assessed the risk of illness after exposure to urban runoff based on the epidemiology study performed at Doheny State Beach in 2007-2008. The article’s main findings suggest an increased risk of swimming-associated gastrointestinal (GI) illness at Doheny State Beach. Specifically, when the flow is high and the berm is open, untreated creek water flows into the beach water, increasing the risk of swimming-associated GI illness. To better understand the types of sources leading to increased public health risks, a source identification study, complete with dye testing and multiple source markers, is currently being conducted. We are hopeful that the investigation led by the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP) will find answers on sources currently present and those contributing to the increased health risks at Doheny Beach.

Orange County Monitoring Program
Three years ago, Orange County began to integrate the multiple agencies’ efforts into a model monitoring program by attempting to integrate the sampling resources of wastewater facilities, storm water programs and environmental health programs.

Heal the Bay provided comments on the proposed plan, recommending that Orange County increase the monitoring frequencies at high-use or high-risk beaches. We also recommended that any decrease in monitoring frequency should be accompanied by a requirement to move beach sample sites to point zero (directly in front of the storm drain and creek flows). Currently, some sample sites are more than 80 yards away from runoff pollution sources.

Sewage Spill Summary
Orange County had nine sewage spills that led to beach closures this past year. Four of these spills were ≥1,000 gallons and all nine of them occurred during the summer beach season. The first substantially sized spill was approximately 2,800 gallons released on Aug. 16, 2012 due to a line break that resulted in beaches along Bayside Drive (and the East Bay Front of Balboa Island) in Newport Bay to be closed for three days. The second notable spill on Aug. 25, 2012 was approximately 1,000 gallons and resulted in Newport Bay locations from 33rd Street to 38th Street to be closed for six days. A pump station failure on Sept. 30, 2012 led to the release of about 1,100 gallons of sewage that resulted in a beach closure from the San Gabriel River mouth to 500 feet south of the river in Seal Beach to be closed for three days. The final notable spill was about 1,000 gallons occurring on Oct. 9, 2012 due to line blockage and resulted in Baby Beach and West Basin Docks in Dana Point Harbor being closed for two days.

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

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 this past year during summer dry weather in San Diego County was excellent. The Tijuana Slough at the Tijuana River Mouth (C grade) was the only location to earn a grade lower than an A or B, and took the No. 10 spot on this year’s Beach Bummer list. The County’s water quality grades during winter dry weather were also excellent with 98% of monitoring locations receiving A or B grades (only 68% of locations were sampled consistently throughout the winter). The percentage of wet weather A and B grades (87%) is up 10% from our last report and bested the county’s five-year average of by nearly 20%.

Tijuana River Bacterial Source Identification Study
In April 2008, the City of Imperial Beach led a Bacterial Source Identification Study in the Tijuana River Watershed, with funding provided by Clean Beach Initiative (CBI) grants. The results of the study, which was completed last fall, provide a detailed account of the sources, loads and transport mechanisms of bacteria during both wet weather and dry weather conditions in the watershed. Main sources of bacteria, including human-specific bacteria, were identified as originating from rogue flows in Mexico as well as storm drain effluent on the U.S. side of the border. Based on these results, the City of Imperial Beach is considering the implementation of low impact development-type best management practices (BMPs) in addition to sewer system upgrades. Imperial Beach is also considering conducting additional studies in order to better identify and understand potential pollution sources and their impacts on the Tijuana River Watershed.

Tijuana River Impacts - Update
Unseasonal flow in the Tijuana River continues to be an issue that impacts beach water quality at Border Field State Park beach, the Tijuana River Wildlife Refuge and Imperial Beach. Dry weather flow is caused by treated effluent being discharged into the river upstream by the new sewage treatment plant in Tijuana.

Mexico’s International and Boundary Water Commission constructed a diverter pump station at the border in order to capture and prevent unseasonal flows from crossing the U.S. border. Captured flows are diverted to the San Antonio de Los Buenos sewage treatment plant, located two miles south of the border. Unfortunately, the system sometimes malfunctions causing flows to impact the Tijuana Estuary and the Pacific Ocean shoreline at south San Diego Beaches.

Tijuana River Watershed Treaty
The International and Boundary Water Commission is currently developing a new treaty to address trash, sediment, and water quality in the Tijuana River Watershed. Once both nations are in agreement, the order will be signed into law and will allow for federal funding to be directed toward cross-border projects to improve water quality, and trash and sediment control at the U.S. and Mexico border.

Sewage Spill Summary
San Diego’s border beaches were impacted this past year by massive amounts of untreated sewage spilled both into the Tijuana River or discharged directly to the ocean just south of the border at Playas de Tijuana. Estimates indicate that at least nine million gallons of untreated sewage were released over four separate events that resulted in 10 beach closure events from Silver Strand to the U.S. border. The four southernmost beaches in San Diego County were closed for a total of 139 days (nine more than last year) between April 1, 2012 and March 31, 2013. Imperial Beach was included in eight of these closure events. The longest closure of the year affected the four southernmost border beaches from Dec. 13, 2012 through the end of the time frame of this report.

Five other spills with an estimated 56,500 gallon discharge resulted in San Diego County beach closures this past year. The first large (>10,000 gallons) spill began on Oct. 7, 2012 with approximately 27,000 gallons released into Batiquitos Lagoon due to a broken pipe at a pump station. The beach at the lagoon outlet was closed for eight days. Another large spill occurred Feb. 1, 2013 when a ruptured sewage force main along Ponto Drive released an estimated 22,000 gallons and resulted in a three day beach closure at Carlsbad State Beach Campground. Other smaller spills throughout the winter closed 15th Street in Del Mar (300 gallons/two-day closure beginning Oct. 22, 2012), Moonlight Beach in Encinitas (6,200 gallons/three-day closure beginning Nov. 18, 2012), and Torrey Pines State Beach at Los Peñasquitos Lagoon outlet (1,000 gallons/two-day closure beginning Dec. 16, 2012).

Storm Drains and Sewage Outfalls

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:

  • In California, 43 wastewater treatment facilities discharge approximately 1.35 billion gallons daily (~1.5 million acre feet per year (AFY)) of treated effluent directly into the Pacific Ocean.
  • These facilities reclaim or divert for reclamation only approximately 312 million gallons daily (MGD) (~ 200,480 AFY) for beneficial reuse. Based on the volume discharged daily by the 43 facilities, about four times more than this amount could be reclaimed.
  • Increasing reclaimed water for reuse would decrease the demand on locally available water as well as dependence on imported supplies, reduce (or in some cases eliminate) ocean discharges, and reduce the stress on the environment that is caused by diversion of water from its natural flows.

The report's recommendations are:

  • Improve and upgrade existing wastewater treatment plants
  • Increase the use of reclaimed water as a more economic alternative to potable water for non-potable uses
  • Make public education and consumer awareness a priority
  • Support and increase efforts to prevent pollution at source
  • Revise legislation and regulation as soon as possible to overcome barriers to use
  • Support and expand collaborative planning and research
  • Provide government support and funding mechanisms
  • Revise the reporting protocols of the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) and attendant regional boards

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. Although the waiver ended, OCSD estimated it could take as much as 11 years to complete the needed construction. In the meantime, they attempted to optimize operations to force as much sewage flow as possible (up to about 64% as opposed to the previous 50%) through the secondary treatment process. They also began chlorinating their effluent in August 2002. 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 of drinking water quality water. 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 as a way of lessening wastewater discharges to the ocean.

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:

  • Reform the Commission or Create Regional Governmental Institution with Long-Term Environmental Planning as Mission
  • Increase Non-Governmental Organizational Capacity Dealing with Major Regional Environmental Problems
  • Establish Ad Hoc Committee to Identify Today’s Best Treatment Option
  • Issue Regular Updates on Treatment Option’s Progress
  • Modify Court-Ordered Deadline at Earliest Opportunity
  • Acknowledge Bajagua Project’s Limitations; Acknowledge Project’s Benefits; Embrace Project’s Goals and Demand Prompt Achievement

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 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.

"No Dumping" sign on a storm drain in Oceanside, CA

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.[1]

Septic Systems

Rincon Point

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.

Water Quality Contact (Runoff and Outfalls)

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

Perception of Causes

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.

Other Water Quality Issues

Cruise Ships

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:

  • "Gray water" from sinks, showers, laundries and galleys
  • Sewage or "black water" from toilets
  • Oily bilge water
  • Hazardous wastes (including perchloroethylene from drycleaning, photo-processing wastes, paint waste, solvents, print shop wastes, fluorescent light bulbs, and batteries)
  • Solid wastes (plastic, paper, wood, cardboard, food waste, cans, and glass)
  • Air pollution from the ship's diesel engines

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:

  • 1 million gallons of "gray water"
  • 210,000 gallons of sewage
  • 25,000 gallons of oily bilge water
  • Over 100 gallons of hazardous or toxic waste
  • 50 tons of garbage and solid waste
  • Diesel exhaust emissions equivalent to thousands of automobiles

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:

  • Cruise ships generate considerable quantities of sewage, gray/black water, bilge and ballast water, and solid wastes including hazardous materials.
  • Many large passenger vessels have installed Marine Sanitation Devices (MSDs), which are required to be approved by USCG. MSDs treat sewage before it is discharged to the sea. However, they frequently fail to meet current federal standards for discharge of effluent. In addition, MSD effluent is not subject to regular monitoring, except for those vessels that have received USCG approval to discharge in Alaska state waters.
  • Monitoring data published by the State of Alaska indicate that graywater discharges frequently exceed standards set for MSD effluent. Current state and federal laws have no established effluent standards that graywater is required to meet.
  • Cruise ships, along with other marine vessels, are a significant source of air pollutants in California, including criteria pollutants and toxic air contaminants.
  • Cruise ship engines are subject to little regulatory control compared to landside sources of emissions. If feasible controls are not implemented on cruise ships, a greater burden will be shifted to less cost-effective strategies for land-side sources of emissions.
  • State laws and regulations are intended primarily to address land-based hazardous waste facilities and generators. They are not specifically designed to regulate hazardous waste management activities in the cruise industry.
  • There is no state regulatory authority for disposal of solid waste, "garbage", while a ship is at sea.
  • The transfer of ballast water is an important issue in California and can lead to unwanted biological invasions through the discharge of large volumes of ballast water at ports throughout the state.

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.

  • Establish an interagency Cruise Ship (or Vessel) Pollution Prevention and Enforcement Program with two options for implementation. Option 1: To assign a lead agency to implement the program, including on-board inspections. Option 2: To work within existing regulatory and enforcement programs through cross-media coordination and assess a regulatory fee.
  • Establish a funding mechanism for the Cruise Ship Prevention and Enforcement Program.
  • Amend the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) to allow California to establish a statewide discharge prohibition zone for sewage discharge from cruise ships only.
  • Graywater should be required, through statute, to meet the same standards required of MSD effluent or discharge should be withheld while in state waters.
  • Wastewater discharge should be prohibited in California's National Marine Sanctuaries.
  • More stringent exhaust emission standards for new marine vessel engines need to be quickly established on a national or international level.
  • Evaluate and implement the use of cleaner fuels and other feasible approaches to reduce air emissions from the existing oceangoing ship fleet in the 2004-2010 timeframe.
  • Clarify that the cruise industry is subject to hazardous waste generator requirements and inspections by Certified Unified Program Agencies (CUPAs) or DTSC at ports where cruise ships take on or disembark passengers; and provide education and outreach to the cruise industry regarding hazardous waste generator requirements.
  • Continue the state's mandatory ballast water program through legislative reauthorization.
  • Prohibit the discharge of any waste, food, or otherwise macerated waste into any marine sanctuary and within California coastal waters. Specify that any solid waste offloaded for disposal at a solid waste facility must meet the definition of solid waste in PRC 41091.

See Supplemental Report of the 2005 Budget Act Cruise Ship and Ocean-Going Vessel Waste Discharge Program.

Oil Spills

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.

Harmful Algal Blooms and Domoic Acxid

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.

Public Education

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:

  • Waves, Wetlands, and Watersheds is a classroom and community activity guide, first printed in 2003, that addresses issues such as endangered species, marine debris, coastal geology, water use, and much more. It is carefully aligned to the California State Science Content Standards for grades 3 through 8, and includes “Community Action” lessons adaptable for all ages up to and beyond 12th grade. The guide is available for free from the California Coastal Commission. Click here to order a free copy.
  • Save Our Seas is a marine curriculum of hands-on activities to help students understand the effects of marine debris on coastal wildlife and habitats. Written in 1993, it was designed for K-12 grades and can be used in conjunction with a beach cleanup. Request Item - SOS on the online Order Form.

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.

Education Contact

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

General Reference Documents

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.


  1. Orange County Grand Jury Report, 2001 and Orange County Infrastructure Report Card, 2002.

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