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How Clean Are San Diego’s Beaches?

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Video published May 28, 2010 | Download MP4 | View transcript

Above: How did local beaches grade in Heal the Bay's annual Beach Report Card? Environmental Reporter Ed Joyce tells us which local beaches passed and failed the water quality test.

GLORIA PENNER (Host): Our local beaches and bays will likely be packed this weekend with people enjoying Memorial Day weekend. Earlier this week, Heal The Bay released its 2010 beach report that assigned A to F grades to 450 beaches throughout California. KPBS Environment Reporter Ed Joyce joins us now to explain how San Diego beaches fared in the annual report. Ok , Ed , overall how did our local beaches do?

ED JOYCE (KPBS News): During dry weather, 98 percent of the beaches received A grades. So very good, excellent grades during dry weather. However, during wet weather, a different story with the rain and the runoff that brings pollution to the beaches. About one in five San Diego County beaches received C to F grades.

PENNER: Well one of our local beaches was listed on the report’s Beach Bummers list for the 10 worst beaches in the state. Where is that beach?

JOYCE: Vacation Isle North Cove Beach in Mission Bay – and that’s mostly because it’s an enclosed beach. There’s not a lot of circulation of the bay and exchange of ocean water into the bay. So it’s traditionally kind of a mucky area, so to speak.

PENNER: So that’s why it received an F grade.

JOYCE: That’s why it received an F grade and why it made the Beach Bummer list at number nine.

PENNER: OK, a few of the other beaches also received F grades during wet weather?

JOYCE: That would be Oceanside Beach at the San Luis Rey River outlet, Ocean Beach at Dog Beach at the San Diego River outlet, Imperial Beach at Carnation projection point and then also Silver Strand at Coronado.

PENNER: So, why do these beaches have problems during wet weather?

JOYCE: Well, predominantly what we have in San Diego is the run-off issue. We have pesticides, fertilizers, oil, people washing cars, not picking up after their animals on the streets, sidewalks and other areas. All of that during rain, washes into the storm drains and those storm drains drain out into the ocean through the rivers and through the storm drain system and that pollution finds its way into the ocean, creating harmful bacteria of all types.

PENNER: But the rest of the time it’s okay to use those beaches?

JOYCE: Unless there’s signs posted. Generally, the signs posted will say don’t go into the beach or into the ocean 72 hours after a rain. That’s probably good advice to follow all the time.

PENNER: Okay, but I did read in your report that there is a lack of funding for beach water quality monitoring so what kind of a problem is that creating?

JOYCE: Well Gov. Schwarzenegger cut the funding in 08. That funding was not restored. Some local municipalities, counties picked-up some of the funding but the problem is without money to test we do not know what is in the water. We don’t know how safe the water is or is not and a lot of areas aren’t being tested so it’s more of a risk to public health. A lot of volunteers are stepping up to do testing but they don’t have unlimited budgets.

PENNER: So where can people – now you’ve given some information – and you’ve given more on your reports, where can people go for more information on this?

JOYCE: They can go to They can look at the report. We have links to the Heal The Bay report which are really comprehensive information on what’s in the water, how they do the testing, and what’s needed going forward in terms of statewide funds to monitor the water in our oceans.

PENNER: When you talked about a lack of funding for beach quality monitoring, can’t people monitor it themselves? Can’t you just take some kind of little kit, walk into the water and test it out?

JOYCE: It’s not that easy. There’s a lot of sophisticated testing that goes on when you sample the water and the process for doing that. It’s not something the layperson can really do. It’s really important that we have quality testing that continues year -round in all of these areas – whether it’s dry weather or wet weather.

PENNER: Okay so we are hitting Memorial Day weekend – how many tens of thousands of people do we know are coming to the beach.

JOYCE: Well it looks like tourism is going to be up this year – at least five percent. San Diego County is usually in the top five as a destination site for California travelers and it will probably be just the same again this weekend and the fire pits are going to be hot and smoking all weekend.

PENNER: Well thank you very much Ed Joyce.

JOYCE: Thank you Gloria.

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