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Water quality worsens at L.A. County beaches, annual report card finds

May 25, 2011 | 11:16 am


Water quality at Los Angeles County beaches has worsened over the last year, according to the annual beach report card released Wednesday by the environmental group Heal the Bay.

Only 75% of county beaches earned A’s or Bs, down from 80% the year before.

Water quality statewide dipped by 2% but remained "very good to excellent," according to the report.

Click to read the full report The annual report gives hundreds of California beaches letter grades based on weekly state-mandated tests that probe the water for bacteria.

Document: Read the report

A high bacteria count means the beach is likely to contain pathogens that increase swimmers' chances of getting ear infections, skin rashes and stomach illnesses.

Some of the county's most chronically polluted beaches saw the gradual improvement they had been making in recent years slip away. Poor water quality at historically dirty beaches in Malibu, Avalon and Long Beach helped drag down the county’s overall grades.

“Despite numerous individual beach success stories, this year demonstrated that there hasn’t been progress reducing major beach pollution sources like the Los Angeles River, Malibu Creek and Topanga Creek,” said Mark Gold, president of Heal the Bay.

Some of the most disappointing marks went to Long Beach, which saw its summer beach water quality grades plummet by 40% after three years of improvement. Only one-third of the city's beaches received an A or B for the year from April 2010 to March 2011, the period covered in the report.

Heavy spring rainfall may have played a part in the sagging ratings in Long Beach and across the county because the more it rains, the more polluted runoff makes its way to the coastline.

Long Beach, because of its location at the mouth of the Los Angeles River, often bears the brunt of storm pollution.

One of the few success stories highlighted by Heal the Bay this year was a dramatic turnaround at the popular beach south of the Santa Monica Pier, which earned an A after years of ranking among the most polluted beaches in the state.

As is often the case, the Los Angeles area did not fare well compared to beaches statewide.

Eight beaches in L.A. County received year-round Fs, and the county also led the list of the state's most polluted beaches with four, more than any other county. Those beaches are Avalon Beach on Santa Catalina Island, Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro, Topanga State Beach, and Colorado Lagoon in Long Beach. They were among the 10 worst beaches in California (see the full list of "Beach Bummers" below).

On the positive side, California beachgoers for the most part enjoyed very good water quality over the past year. Twenty-one percent of California beaches scored perfect A-plus grades because they never exceeded state health standards during dry weather.

Beaches in San Diego, Orange and Ventura counties on the whole had outstanding water quality despite some notable exceptions, such as Poche Beach in San Clemente and Doheny State Beach.

Heal the Bay, which has been compiling the report for 21 years, for the first time this year added data from beaches in Washington state and Oregon. The nonprofit plans to launch an application later this summer for beachgoers to access the latest beach water grades on their mobile devices.

Top 10 Beach Bummers (Poorest water quality statewide)

1. Cowell Beach -- at the wharf (Santa Cruz County)

2. Avalon Harbor Beach on Catalina Island (L.A. County)

3. Cabrillo Beach harborside (Los Angeles County)

4. Topanga State Beach at creek mouth (L.A. County)

5. Poche Beach (Orange County)

6. North Beach/Doheny (Orange County)

7. Arroyo Burro Beach (Santa Barbara County)

8. Baker Beach at Lobos Creek (San Francisco County)

9. Colorado Lagoon (Los Angeles County)

10. Capitola Beach -- west of the jetty (Santa Cruz County)

Source: Heal the Bay 2010- 2011 Annual Beach Report Card


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Photo: Tourists play in the water under the pier at Avalon Harbor Beach. The beach was listed in the top 10 of poor water-quality beaches by the environmental group Heal the Bay. Credit: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times