The National Resources Defense Council released a study Wednesday saying that the beaches in Santa Monica are some of the most polluted in the state, particularly the area around the Santa Monica Pier.

(photo by Brandon Wise)

OCEAN AVENUE — Santa Monica continues to have some of the most polluted beaches in California, with the Santa Monica Pier failing to meet clean water criteria nearly half the time, according to an annual study released Wednesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In a news conference in Santa Monica on Wednesday, Noah Garrison, a project attorney for the NRDC’s Water Program, announced there was a significant drop overall in the number of beach closings and advisories in California over the past year, but the decrease is a result of less testing being done on the water, not cleaner conditions.

“When you’re not looking for something, you’re not going to find it,” Garrison said.

The NRDC’s 20th annual “Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches” is a national study that rates water pollution by human and animal waste bacteria at 200 of the nation’s most popular beaches on a one- to five-star scale, with five representing the cleanest. This year’s study also includes a special look at the impact of the British Petroleum oil spill off of the Gulf Coast.

The study found there were 2,900 beach closings and advisories in California in 2009, 80 percent of which were the result of bacteria found during water testing. That represents a 30 percent drop from 2008.

But there was a significant reduction in testing programs, and one-third less water samples were taken in 2009 than 2008 as a result of state budget cuts to testing programs, Garrison said. In a 2008 line-item veto, Gov. Schwarzenegger cut $1 million in funds for collecting and processing ocean water samples and for posting signs notifying swimmers of risks, according to Heal the Bay, a nonprofit aimed at cleaning up Southern California beaches.

Though California had many five-star beaches according to the NRDC report, Los Angeles County received the lowest star rankings in the state.

Venice beaches in the study received either two or three stars, and all Santa Monica beaches in the study received two stars. The stars were awarded because officials acted quickly in notifying the public about closings and advisories, but the beaches did not receive any additional stars because of poor water quality, Garrison said.

The study found the area around the pier was one of the most polluted beaches in the state as it failed to meet clean water criteria 46 percent of the time. In the previous study, it failed to meet clean water criteria 43 percent of the time.

The NRDC is the second organization this year to note the pier’s high water pollution. Heal the Bay released a study in May saying the pier was the fifth most polluted beach in the state. NRDC’s study differs in its national scope, allowing people who live out of town to use it as a reference guide of safe beaches, Garrison said.

Despite Santa Monica’s low rankings, Garrison noted there are programs in place to try to improve water quality. A parking lot on Ocean Avenue has been “greened,” meaning the asphalt has been replaced with a grass-like turf to absorb rain run-off, and there is a plan to make a similar “green street” on Ocean Park Boulevard from Neilson Way to Lincoln Boulevard.

“Santa Monica has started to embrace green infrastructure to prevent pollution at its source,” Garrison said. “These things absolutely do help, but you need more than one street or one parking lot.”

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