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Dry winter keeps Heal the Bay's beach grades high, but usual suspects remain dirty

The beach at Avalon Harbor has made Heal the Bay’s
The beach at Avalon Harbor has made Heal the Bay’s "Ten Worst Bummers” list for more than a decade thanks to ancient clay and metal pipes in the Catalina Island city’s sewage system.
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Santa Monica based Heal the Bay’s annual Beach Report Card is out, just as school’s about to be out for summer. The group found cleaner beaches overall in Los Angeles county, but the dirtiest spots are familiar ones.

Heal the Bay graded 89 LA county beaches for bacterial contamination in wet and dry weather. Eighty-four percent of them scored As or Bs on an A-to-F scale.

Seven of the worst beaches in the state are in southern California, according to the group’s analysis.

In Los Angeles County, Redondo Pier, Cabrillo Beach, Malibu Pier, and Avalon topped the “beach bummers” list. Orange County’s Poche Beach and Doheny in Dana Point also scored poorly. In San Diego, Imperial Beach near the Tijuana River’s mouth is closed as a result of sewage-contaminated runoff in the river. Sewage has contaminated the river several times over the past four years.

Ventura County’s beaches were the cleanest in the region, with perfect scores in dry weather and only one spot, Hobie Beach, scoring an F for wet weather. The overall coastal water quality in Orange County remains excellent, with beaches again scoring above the state average.

Heal the Bay’s Kirsten James says we shouldn't get too happy about the preponderance of high grades. She suggests lower rainfall contributes to southern California beaches’ higher scores.

“We are heartened by numerous individual beach success stories, but extremely dry weather is likely masking the severity of stormwater pollution,” James said.

Regional regulators and city officials have pursued stormwater control programs in southern California in recent years. A set of rules passed by water regulators for Ventura County promotes green infrastructure and low-impact development. In the last year, Los Angeles County’s department of Public Works pursued a plan to charge property owners for stormwater controls and water supply programs. County supervisors sent the parcel tax back to the drawing board after some cities and property owners protested.  

The report card comes weeks after the federal Environmental Protection Agency again proposed slashing $10 million in beach water-quality monitoring funds, $500,00 of which comes to California counties. The EPA argues that states should pick up the tab for bacterial testing. The state of California does set aside some money; federal grants supplement it. Other states, including Oregon, rely entirely on the EPA to pay for coastal water quality testing.

Heal the Bay has an interactive map listing local beaches along with their report card grades, updated weekly. Alternately, mobile users can download the Beach Report Card app to their iOS or Android devices.