A report by Heal the Bay reveals that water quality near the Santa Monica Pier was good this summer. The pier had been singled out in past years as having some of the most polluted water in the state. (photo by Daniel Archuleta)

SM BEACH — For the second straight year the beach at the historic Santa Monica Pier, once known for having some of the dirtiest water in the state, earned a much-improved A grade on Heal the Bay’s end of the summer Beach Report Card, which was released Tuesday.

Researchers with the Santa Monica-based environmental watchdog said a combination of water quality improvement projects — including a new storm drain, better stormwater runoff diversion and the installation of nets underneath the pier to keep birds from nesting and defecating in the surf — may have contributed to the drastically improved grade at the iconic landmark.

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

The report card does not measure the amount of trash or toxins found at local beaches. Heal the Bay reminds people not to swim or surf within 100 yards of any flowing storm drain or for three days after a rainstorm. After a rainfall, bacteria counts at beaches throughout the state usually far exceed acceptable limits.

It is the fifth consecutive summer of excellent water quality in California, with an estimated 92 percent of the 447 beaches along the state’s coast that were tested for bacterial pollution from Memorial Day through Labor Day receiving A or B grades, according to Heal the Bay.

“We continue to see water quality improvements at California beaches,” said Mark Gold, president of Heal the Bay. “A sustainable source of beach monitoring funding is critical to ensure that we continue to capitalize on these gains and safeguard the public health of millions of ocean users statewide.”

The situation is also looking up for some of the state’s most polluted beaches. All the sites tested in the port city of Long Beach appeared clean, and the city of Avalon on Santa Catalina Island is expected to spend $5 million to repair a deteriorating sewer system that has been contributing to high pollution levels.

Meanwhile, legislators approved a bill that would replace funding for water testing that was cut in 2008 due to the budget crisis. Since that time many coastal communities relied on local general funds or volunteers for reduced testing. The state water board had provided funding through 2011, but there was no secured state funding for next year.

The bill, which is awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, would funnel permit fees collected by the state water board to fund beach water quality monitoring.

Most bacterial contamination occurs during winter, when heavy rains overload storm drains and sewage systems, washing waste into the sea. Swimming in such pollution can cause gastrointestinal, respiratory and other illnesses.

Los Angeles County, which consistently has the worst water quality in the state, showed marked improvement this summer. Some 85 percent of beaches received A or B grades, up from last year’s 79 percent, thanks in large part to historically troubled Long Beach scoring its best summer water quality grades to date, according to the report card.

On the downside, poor water quality persists at Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro. The harborside beach near the restrooms has earned F grades the past eight summers. The city of Los Angeles has completed several improvement projects totaling $15 million without much luck, according to the report.

Other beaches in L.A. County earning F grades this summer: Marie Canyon at Puerco Beach, Escondido Creek, Solstice Canyon at Dan Blocker County Beach, Surfrider Beach, Malibu Pier, Carbon Beach at Sweetwater Canyon and Topanga State Beach.

Orange County once again enjoyed great water quality this summer, with 94 percent of beaches receiving an A grade, slightly lower than last summer. Poche Beach once again received an F grade, but Dana Point’s perennially troubled Doheny Beach jumped to an A grade from last season’s C.

San Diego and Ventura counties once again rose to the head of the water quality class and exhibited uniformly excellent marks. All of San Diego’s 73 monitored beaches earned an A or B grade (72 A’s and one B). In Ventura, all 40 monitoring locations received A grades.

Water quality at beaches in Santa Barbara County was fairly good this summer, with 87 percent of monitored beaches scoring an A or B grade. Gaviota Beach (C) and Arroyo Burro (F) were the only locations that did not earn an A or B grade.

Beachgoers can view Heal the Bay’s report from any computer, or download a Beach Report Card mobile app for their iPhone or Android, at www.beachreportcard.org.

The new, free Beach Report Card app provides access anytime and anywhere to a comprehensive, weekly analysis of coastline water quality. The mobile app provides A through F grades, weather conditions and user tips for more than 650 beach locations in California, Oregon and Washington at the fingertips of those who swim, surf and play at the beach.

kevinh@www.smdp.com

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