Environment & Science

Most California beaches benefit from drier winter in water quality tests; Malibu Pier, Cabrillo Beach, Newport still polluted

Underneath Malibu Pier.
Underneath Malibu Pier.
Mike P Miller/via Flickr

A new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council places California’s beaches 11th among 30 U.S. coastal states in meeting national pollution standards. Tests results surveyed by the NRDC showed coastal waters in the state did not exceed unhealthful pollution standards in more than 90 percent of samples taken.

There were still local outliers, however. A section of Newport Beach and Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro were among the worst violators of pollution standards. And the NRDC identified a site near the Malibu Pier as a “chronic offender” for exceeding pollution standards repeatedly over the last five years.

“Twenty-nine percent of samples taken there exceeded the strongest federal threshold for swimmer safety that’s currently set at this point,” said NRDC attorney Noah Garrison. “And at Surfrider beach 24 percent of samples exceeded this threshold. What that means is there is pollution in the water that can make people sick if they go swimming come into contact with the water.”

The cause of bacterial pollution at the spots in Malibu remains unclear.

Garrison says California’s overall results are an endorsement of state efforts to better control of stormwater runoff, which carries pollution like oil, chemicals, and bacteria, into coastal waters.

NRDC’s 24th annual report analyzes beach water quality tests using a newly-developed “Beach Action Value,” which the federal Environmental Protection Agency describes as “a conservative, precautionary tool for making beach notification decisions.” A BAV is not a limit set by regulation under the Clean Water Act; instead, it provides guidance for when local authorities should close beaches.

By way of comparison, water quality standards set by EPA in 2012 permit an acceptable gastrointestinal illness risk of 3.6 percent meaning that one out of every 28 people in the water can get sick even if the water’s deemed to meet federal standards. Lawyers for the Natural Resources Defense Council have argued that the current water quality standards, while enforceable in a way that BAVs are not, nevertheless fail to protect public health fully.  

Click here for the full report and a zip-code searchable map.