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California beach water quality improved, but lack of money could kill testing program, report warns

September 29, 2010 |  2:34 pm
Santa Monica Beach at night. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Water quality at California beaches has continued to show improvement, even as the future of monitoring programs remains uncertain because of state budget shortfalls, according to a report released Wednesday by Heal the Bay.

This summer was one of the cleanest on record for California beaches and the fourth straight summer  of excellent water quality grades statewide. Of the beaches tested, 92% received A or B grades during the high-traffic beach-going season, according to the environmental group’s End of Summer Beach Report Card.

But if money isn't found to continue funding beach testing next year, the state and beach counties may be forced to discontinue water-quality monitoring, meaning people won't be alerted when the ocean poses a health risk to swimmers and surfers, according to the report.

“We continue to see water quality improvements at California beaches,” Heal the Bay President Mark Gold said in a news release. “However without a sustainable source of beach-monitoring funding, the public health of millions of ocean users will be jeopardized.”

A Los Angeles Times investigation this summer found state budget cuts already taking a toll on beach health testing, which has slumped to its lowest level in more than a decade, led to fewer beach closures and advisories and put swimmers and surfers at greater risk of getting sick from exposure to contaminated water.

This summer in Los Angeles County, water quality remained fair, with 79% of beaches earning A or B grades on the Heal the Bay report, which is based on water quality samples taken between Memorial Day and Labor Day at about 450 beaches statewide.

Water quality dipped slightly in Santa Monica Bay, which runs from the Palos Verdes Peninsula to Point Dume in Malibu, with 87% of locations earning A or B grades compared to 91% last year.

A notable exception was the chronically pollution-fouled beach at Santa Monica Pier, which earned failing grades the five previous summers.

This summer the popular tourist spot earned an A.

Heal the Bay chalks up the dramatic turnaround at the pier to a diversion project that kept runoff from a storm drain from pooling along the beach, and to nets installed under the pier that kept bird feces out of the surf.

Water pollution continued to deal low grades to other Los Angeles County beaches, however,  including Avalon Beach on Catalina, Long Beach’s Colorado Lagoon, Will Rogers State Beach at Temescal Canyon and Cabrillo Beach.

Elsewhere in Southern California, beachgoers enjoyed some of the cleanest waters in the state.

All but one of San Diego County’s 77 beaches earned A grades.

In Orange County, 97% of beaches earned A or B grades. Poche Beach in San Clemente and  Newport Bay at Garnet Avenue, however, received Fs and pollution-plagued Doheny State Beach in Dana Point earned a D.

-- Tony Barboza

Photo: Huntington Beach at night. Credit: Los Angeles Times