Heal the Bay released its annual Beach Bummers water quality report card on Thursday. (photo by Daniel Archuleta)

PACIFIC PALISADES — Water quality watchdog Heal the Bay gave Santa Monica’s beach areas all As during dry weather, a continuing sign that Santa Monica’s bad water reputation may be behind it.

According to the report, which was released Thursday morning to a smattering of reporters on Will Rogers State Beach, all seven of Santa Monica’s testing sites came back with an A or A+ for testing during dry weather, but four fared worse during rainfall.

One site, where the Pico/Kenter storm drain meets the beach, received a failing grade during wet weather.

The scores are based on daily and weekly samples of water from various test spots. Heal the Bay employees analyze those samples for certain kinds of bacteria that are present when fecal waste is in the water.

That bacteria can cause illnesses like stomach flu, ear infections, upper respiratory infections and skin rashes for the unwary swimmer.

Santa Monica’s results were typical for the Southern California area which received As and Bs at 92 percent of its beaches in dry conditions, but only 58 percent managed that score during wet weather.

Even so, it’s a dramatic jump for the city whose pier ranked as the fifth most-polluted beach area in the study just two years ago.

The first step was dealing with pollution that came from wastewater, which was being dumped into the bay after an insufficient trip to the Hyperion Treatment Plant, said Dean Kubani, director of City Hall’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment.

Now that Hyperion has received major upgrades and City Hall put $2 million worth of infrastructure improvements in place throughout the city, officials can turn to a secondary source of pollution — urban runoff.

“We’ve taken care of the worst pollution, and now we’re dealing with the remainder,” Kubani said.

New building and development actually helps on that score.

Every time a homeowner gets permits for a major remodel or a new development comes to town, City Hall requires that builders use permeable materials and other techniques to capture rainwater before it gets to the ocean.

At the same time, City Hall is installing filters, screens and other diversions into the stormwater system to capture trash and other pollutants before they make it to the beach, Kubani said.

The progress that’s been made could not have been done without Santa Monicans’ support, he said.

“They passed not one, but two parcel taxes that have raised money for stormwater improvements,” he said.

Although Santa Monica has had success tackling its stormwater issues, the city of Los Angeles is working hard to address long-standing problems that have resulted in negative grades on Heal the Bay’s annual report card.

Each year, the nonprofit announces 10 “Beach Bummers,” which rank as the most polluted beaches in the state. Los Angeles County is home to seven of them, and five are in Malibu.

Last year, the county had only four “bummers,” including Topanga State Beach, a surprise entry that had never been in the bottom 10 before.

Topanga ranked 10th on the “Beach Bummer” list this year, along with Escondido Beach, Solstice Canyon Beach, Surfrider Beach and Puerco Beach.

The results reinforce a need for a centralized wastewater system and a statewide policy on septic systems, said Kirsten James, Heal the Bay’s director of water quality.

Heal the Bay also took the opportunity to announce the launch of the Storm the Beach campaign, a 100-day period in which the organization will be lobbying for the strongest possible stormwater permit for the area.

Those permits regulate what pollutants get into stormwater systems, and eventually find their way to the ocean.

Stormwater is the next frontier for Los Angeles, said Enrique Zaldivar, director of sanitation in the city.

City officials focused on improving the Hyperion water treatment facility, which they believed to be the source of their water quality problems, he said.

“It used to be we thought it was water reclamation, and that we were not treating water at the right standards,” Zaldivar said. “Subsequent testing found that the water was still high in bacteria.”

Los Angeles City Hall is now embarking on an ambitious plan to fix its stormwater problem. It has already secured between $30 and $50 million in grant funding in the last three years with nonprofit partners to help with water quality improvements.

To check out the report card in its entirety, go to brc.healthebay.org.


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