SM BAY — If the Santa Monica Pier were a pupil in grade school, it would be moved to the head of the class, finally making the grade when it comes to water quality, according to a report released by environmental watchdog Heal the Bay.

Notorious for poor water quality, often earning Ds and Fs during the dry summer months, the world-famous pier received an A on Heal the Bay’s 2010 End of Summer Beach Report Card, officials with the organization said Wednesday.

The perennially polluted pier showed dramatic improvement this season, most likely from a number of water quality improvement projects over the past year, including the replacement by City Hall of a leaky storm drain.

Overall, beachgoers basked in a fourth consecutive summer of excellent water quality, however, state funding for routine testing for harmful bacteria along the California coast may be eliminated next January due to the statewide budget crisis.

“We continue to see water quality improvements at California beaches,” said Mark Gold, president of Heal the Bay. “However without a sustainable source of beach monitoring funding, the public health of millions of ocean users will be jeopardized.”

If regional ocean-testing agencies can not secure the necessary funds, they will be forced to end water quality monitoring and the associated warning signs and public notification systems. Any cutbacks in testing pose a significant health risk for the millions of beachgoers who enter the ocean each year, Gold said.

In its latest survey, Heal the Bay assigned an A-to-F letter grade to 458 beaches along the coast, based on levels of bacterial pollution reported from Memorial Day through Labor Day. This summer, 92 percent of sites received A or B grades, which is similar to last year.

The Beach Report Card is based on the routine monitoring of beaches by local health agencies and dischargers. Water samples are analyzed for bacteria that indicate pollution from numerous sources. Heal the Bay analyzes the data and assigns easy-to-understand grades to each beach. The better the grade a beach receives, the lower the risk of illness to ocean users, Gold said.

Los Angeles County beaches were relatively clean this summer, with 81 percent of beaches receiving an A (similar to last year). Some of the beaches of most concern in L.A. this summer: Avalon Beach on Catalina, Long Beach’s Colorado Lagoon, Will Rogers at Temescal Canyon and Cabrillo Beach.

Users can check updated weekly grades at www.beachreportcard.org.

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