A BRIGHTER DAY: A recent Heal the Bay study discovered that water quality around the Santa Monica Pier continues to improve. (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)

SM BAY — Those who took a dip in the Santa Monica Bay this summer didn’t have to worry too much about getting sick as 2012 marked one of the cleanest summers for beach water quality ever recorded in the state, according to environmental watchdog Heal the Bay.

The Santa Monica-based nonprofit on Tuesday released its annual End-of-Summer Beach Report Card, which assigned letter grades to 466 beaches along the California coast, based on bacterial pollution data collected by 20 health agencies and discharges from Humboldt through San Diego counties.

It was the sixth year in a row that California beachgoers enjoyed “excellent” water quality during the period from Memorial Day through Labor Day, with 96 percent of sampled sites receiving A or B grades, a 4 percent improvement from last year, according to Heal the Bay.

The better the grade, the lower the risk of swimmers and surfers suffering from diarrhea, nausea and vomiting because of exposure to fecal bacteria.

In the Santa Monica Bay, water quality continued to improve with 65 of 69 (94 percent) beaches receiving A or B grades, compared to 89 percent last year. This is the third year in a row that the chronically polluted waters around the Santa Monica Pier earned a much improved A grade, according to the report.

But there’s some bad news. While Los Angeles County beach water quality continued to improve, this year by 2 percent, Avalon Beach on Catalina Island remains problematic. Avalon consistently appears on Heal the Bay’s infamous annual “Beach Bummers” list of the 10 most polluted beaches throughout California. It was the eighth summer in a row that none of the five monitoring locations have received A or B grades.

Help is on the way, though. Clean Beach Initiative funding has subsidized the recent upgrade of Avalon’s corroded sewer infrastructure. The upgrades were completed this summer, according to Heal the Bay, and additional water quality projects are currently underway.

“We look forward to seeing a boost in water quality grades as these projects progress,” read a statement from Heal the Bay.

The Malibu Pier (50 yards east) once again received poor marks. For the third consecutive year the Malibu Pier has earned an F grade.

Heal the Bay is also concerned about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed acceptable bacteria levels in recreational waters that the nonprofit says are in some respects less protective than the 25-year-old criteria the agency would replace.

If approved, the new criteria would “have a devastating effect on beach water quality programs in 2013,” Heal the Bay officials said.

And if that wasn’t enough for environmental advocates, the EPA is facing budget cuts that would eliminate all BEACH Act grant funding, jeopardizing water monitoring programs throughout the country, according to Heal the Bay. These programs allow state, local health and environmental protection agencies to routinely monitor and track water quality at the nation’s beaches, as well as alert the public when bacteria levels in the water are unsafe by posting beach warnings or closing the beach.

“Heal the Bay has long advocated for strong water quality standards as well as for consistent, effective monitoring and timely alerts to the public when the water is unsafe for swimmers,” a statement from the nonprofit reads. “Heal the Bay urges concerned citizens to send a letter directly to the EPA asking that officials reconsider proposed recreational water quality criteria and to restore the BEACH Act Grant Program, via www.healthebay.org/get-involved/take-action.”

Heal the Bay sent the EPA on Tuesday over 200 petitions from those concerned about water quality.

Officials with the EPA said the new criteria was developed with the help of numerous studies and scientific literature.

For a copy of the full report card, visit beachreportcard.org.

The report card is in its 22nd year.

 

kevinh@smdp.com

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