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Calif. Beach Water Quality ‘Steady’ In 2011

Aired 9/27/11 on KPBS News.

The environmental group Heal the Bay has released its 2011 End of Summer Beach Report Card.

Heal the Bay said California beachgoers enjoyed a fifth consecutive summer of excellent water quality.

"The state of California did great this year," said Amanda Griesbach, a water quality scientist with Heal the Bay. "Nearly 92 percent of the monitoring sites along the coast received 'A' or 'B' grades.

She said San Diego and Ventura counties once again rose to the head of the water quality class and exhibited uniformly excellent marks.

Griesbach said all 40 monitoring locations in Ventura County received received A grades.

"San Diego had one of their best years on record. They had 73 monitoring locations throughout the county and 72 received A grades and one received a B," said Griesbach. "Overall the water quality has been great in San Diego County."

She said the main source of water pollution in San Diego waters during 2011 came from the Tijuana River and sewage spills.

Heal the Bay assigned an A-to-F letter grade to 447 beaches along the California coast, based on levels of bacterial pollution reported from Memorial Day through Labor Day. This summer, 92% of sites received A or B grades statewide, the same total as in last year's report.

Los Angeles County, which consistently has the worst water quality in the state, showed marked improvement this summer. Some 85% of beaches received A or B grades.

In another encouraging sign for improving L.A. County water quality, the city of Avalon has budgeted more than $5 million to repair a deteriorating sewer system. Leaky pipes have led to two decades of extremely poor water quality at Catalina Island's Avalon Beach, a high-traffic summer tourist destination.

The Beach Report Card is based on the routine monitoring of beaches by local health agencies and dischargers. Water samples are analyzed for bacteria that indicate pollution from numerous sources, including fecal waste. Heal the Bay analyzes the data and assigns easy-to-understand grades to each beach. The better the grade a beach receives, the lower the risk of serious gastro-intestinal and respiratory illness to ocean users.

"We continue to see water quality improvements at California beaches," said Mark Gold, president of Heal the Bay in a news release. "A sustainable source of beach monitoring funding is critical to ensure that we continue to capitalize on these gains and safeguard the public health of millions of ocean users statewide."

Ongoing state funding for routine water quality testing along California beaches had been cut in 2008 from the California Department of Public Health due to the statewide budget crisis. Nearly $1 million in annual patchwork funding from the State Water Resources Control Board has now been exhausted.

The California Assembly and Senate have approved SB 482, a bill introduced by Sen. Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) which would funnel permit fees collected by the State Water Board to fund beach water quality monitoring on a consistent basis. The bill is now awaiting the Governor's signature.

Orange County once again enjoyed great water quality this summer, with 94% of beaches receiving an A grade, slightly lower than last summer. Poche Beach once again received an F grade, but Dana Point's perennially troubled Doheny Beach jumped to an A grade from last season's C grade.

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