People enjoy the waves a the Santa Monica Beach on Wednesday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

DOWNTOWN — There is finally some good news to come out of Heal the Bay’s 19th Annual Beach Report Card for the Santa Monica Pier.

While the beach is still among the dirtiest in the state, making the top 10 “Beach Bummers” list and earning an F for water quality once again, the outlook is positive for a better grade next year thanks to the replacement of the aging and deteriorated pier storm drain, a project that was just completed this week.

The new drain, which is expected to cure the problem of dry weather runoff by diverting it to the Santa Monica Urban Runoff Reuse Facility for treatment, could mean the pier will post marks of As and Bs in the 2010 report card.

“There are some piers in California that are ‘A’ beaches,” Mitzy Taggart, a senior scientist with Heal the Bay said on Wednesday during the release of the report card at the pier. “It’s hard to get an ‘A’ but they get them.”

The nonprofit organization analyzed available year-round data for bacteria levels at approximately 324 beaches across the state, finding that 85 percent had good water quality during the dry summer months, while 55 percent received poor grades during the wet weather season. More than 500 locations were monitored for dry weather grades.

Los Angeles County once again performed poorly in the report card, its beaches having the overall worst water quality in California, giving it a strong presence on the “Beach Bummers” list.

One beach that did move down on that list was the area around the Santa Monica Pier, which went from the second slot in 2008 to number five this year.

Councilman Bobby Shriver said he hopes the beach will move onto the report’s newly established “Honor Roll” next year. Approximately 24 percent of beaches were listed in the Honor Roll for having straight A+ the entire year.

“It’s very embarrassing for the city of Santa Monica to have one of the most polluted beaches in the state, particularly under this great facility of the pier,” Shriver said during the report card’s unveiling.

Better water quality is expected with the completion of the pier storm drain project, which finished about four months ahead of schedule. The project was funded through Measure V, which voters passed in 2006 to pay for more than $40 million in water quality improvements. The storm drain is also expected to eliminate ponding of urban runoff, which can foster the growth of bacteria that then gets carried away into sea.

The pump for the storm drain was installed on Wednesday and was expected to be in operation shortly thereafter.

“We’re just doing everything we can to eliminate potential sources of bacteria,” Swain said. “We don’t even know if we identified all of them yet.

“We definitely eliminated the pier storm drain in dry weather as being the source of bacteria.”

Taggart said that she expects to see measurable improvement in the pier in next year’s report. She pointed out that most of the beaches at Santa Monica received good grades.

“People should not be afraid to go to the beach, but quite the opposite,” she said.

The state budget crisis apparently had an impact on the beach report card this year after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s line item veto took out about $1 million in funding for state beach monitoring, according to Heal the Bay.

The result was that counties that rely on state funding, including San Diego, Santa Barbara and Ventura, had to eliminate or reduce their programs, leading to a lack of data for the beach report card.

“The reason beach water quality testing is so important is because the types of pollution that will make you sick from swimming is something you can’t see or smell,” Taggart said.

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