The Santa Monica Bay on Tuesday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

SM BAY — Santa Monica Bay beaches are safer for swimming than they were five years ago, but water quality remains poor during winter months, the latest report from the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission said.

Problems like contaminated fish, threatened wildlife populations and trash in the ocean remain persistent concerns, according to the report.

The cleaner water is due mostly to new “dry weather runoff diversions,” the report stated, including the ones built at Montana Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard that limit untreated urban runoff from flowing into the ocean.

Called the “State of the Bay Report 2010,” the analysis is the most comprehensive assessment of environmental conditions in the bay produced by the commission. The report is being presented today at a conference held at Loyola Marymount University.

Mark Gold, president of Heal the Bay and vice chairman of the commission, said the report shows where progress has been made and highlights areas that need continued attention.

The greatest recent success, he said, has been in limiting dry-weather runoff.

“A lot of these engineering projects that have been implemented by the coastal cities and the county have started to make a difference for protecting the public health during the summer months,” he said.

The most glaring shortcoming for the bay is a lack of progress in implementing measures to reduce storm water pollution.

In Santa Monica, Director of Public Works Lee Swain said City Hall is preparing to present the City Council with a comprehensive proposal to implement its watershed management plan, which would include strategies for dealing with storm water urban runoff.

The plan will lay out recommended uses for the roughly $2.5 million collected each year from Measure V, the Clean Beaches and Ocean Parcel Tax approved by Santa Monica voters in 2006. Swain said the plan should come before council within the next couple of months.

Gold said another significant issue for the Santa Monica Bay that is yet to be dealt with involves toxic chemicals such as DDT that have been banned for decades but which were used in wastewater treatment in the 1940s through the early ‘70s and continue to contaminate the bay.

The Environmental Protection Agency for years has been studying a contaminated area near Palos Verdes and is close to moving ahead with a plan to limit the negative effects on some fish species by capping the most contaminated sediment areas. Some of the affected species are eaten by humans and can pose a cancer risk, Gold said.

Other projects that still need attention involve habitat restoration efforts in Malibu Lagoon and Ballona Wetlands, Gold said.

While Santa Monica has been a leader in efforts to reduce bay pollution, Gold said the city’s efforts to clean up bacteria near the Santa Monica Pier remain less than adequate. City officials last year installed a new storm drain underneath the pier to replace one that was leaking, leading to poor grades on Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card.

“The pier project has led to improvement, it just isn’t clean,” he said. “(The city has) not solved the problem yet.”

Swain said City Hall is about half way done with installing a net under the pier aimed at reducing the pigeon population. Pigeons and their excrement are believed to contribute to higher bacteria levels in the ocean near the pier.

City Hall is also installing sound devices aimed at deterring pigeons from congregating at the pier.

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