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Drought Leads to Cleaner Beach Waters

Continued dry weather this year has given California beach-goers another record summer of clean water, according to an annual report released Thursday. Heal the Bay, a clean water group based in Santa

Continued dry weather this year has given California beachgoers another record summer of clean water, according to an annual report released Thursday.

Heal the Bay, a clean water group based in Santa Monica, found that about 91 percent of the beaches tracked statewide had very good to excellent water quality.

The state's most popular beaches in Southern California, however, continued to have uneven water quality.


San Diego, Orange and Santa Barbara counties all boasted very good water quality, the report said. Most of Ventura County's beaches also scored high marks.

Long Beach made a slight improvement from last year but still had the worst water quality in the state "by far" because the Los Angeles River pours into the city's waters, the report said. Other beaches with poor water quality included Malibu's Surfrider Beach, Paradise Cove, Solstice Canyon at Dan Blocker Beach and Marie Canyon at Puerco Beach.

Heal the Bay analyzed water samples taken from Memorial Day through Labor Day from hundreds of locations on the coast for bacteria levels.

The results were similar to those from last year, when dry conditions caused less urban runoff polluting state beaches. The group also noted that the state's $100 million Clean Beach Initiative also led to improvements.

Most contamination occurs during winter when heavy rains overload storm drain and sewage system, washing pollutants into the sea. Swimming in such waters can cause gastrointestinal problems and other illnesses.


Heal the Bay officials said news of clean beach water was tempered by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's recent decision to cut funding for beach water quality monitoring because of a statewide budget crunch.

For the last 10 years, beachgoers have benefited from a state law that created monitoring requirements and bacteria standards for ocean water quality. Because the bulk of the funding to monitor California's beaches comes from the state, however, a nearly $1 million cut could result in fewer beaches getting tested or beaches getting tested less often, said Mark Gold, president of Heal the Bay.

"The governor has essentially placed a 'Swim at Your Own Risk' sign along the entire California coastline," Gold said. "It's depressing to announce near record water quality at the same time you see the state program that supports it being dismantled."

H.D. Palmer, deputy director of the state Department of Finance, said the funding cut does not mean the governor believes beach water quality is not important.

"It was a difficult but necessary decision during a period of fiscal uncertainty," Palmer said, adding that Schwarzenegger felt it was critical to build up the budget's "paper thin" reserve of $800 million.

Among other things, the money is needed for emergency fire suppression, which last year totaled $524 million, Palmer said.

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