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Local beaches scored well on the annual Beach Report Card issued by Heal the Bay this week.

No local beaches were part of the Beach Bummer list this year and while Santa Monica beaches had a wide variety of grades based on conditions, all were listed as A or A+ during dry weather.

Luke Ginger, a Water Quality Scientist with Heal The Bay said the good news is that out of over 500 beaches across the state 92% earned good marks in summer months with A’s and B’s from April through October. Winter grades for dry weather issued November through March, were slightly better than average with 91% receiving A or B grades. He said rainfall was 12% lower than the historical average and less rain means fewer pollutants including bacteria were flushed the ocean. Wet Weather Grades for the past year were also above average with 65% of the beaches receiving A and B grades.

Beaches are given three rankings: Summer Dry, Winter Dry and Wet.

Summer grades are from April through October and county governments are required to sample during this period. Wet weather conditions are not ranked in this grade. The Winter Dry grade is from November through March. State rules do not require testing during this time period meaning some beaches do not track quality year round.

Wet weather conditions are not included in this grade. Wet weather from April 2019 through March 2020 are graded separately from dry days as rain vastly increases the pollution running into the ocean. Heal the Bay said that beachgoers who visit beaches during or after a rain event have an increased risk of contracting ear infections, eye infections, upper respiratory infections, skin rashes, and gastrointestinal illness. Swimmers are advised to stay out of the water for a minimum of three days following a significant rain event (0.1 inches or greater).

To make the honor roll, beaches must receive high grades year round in all conditions.

Heal The Bay CEO Shelley Luce said the 2020 grades are the 30th anniversary of the report card and she credited the work for pushing regulators to make water cleaner and safer. She said water was not always so clean when the program began 30 years ago.

“It was not uncommon for people to get sick from going into the ocean and getting exposed to pollution, specifically bacteria and viruses, in our surf zone in the coastal waters,” she said.

Luce said grades had generally improved over time with the exception of wet weather grades that declined due to a change in the way the water samples are gathered. However, she said the work was far from over with thousands of residents depending on the ocean at a time when Federal regulators were shirking their duty.

“With the number of people depending on the ocean for that going up, it is more important than ever to protect our water quality and our beaches,” she said. “There have been massive enforcement rollbacks in the last four years at the federal level, the EPA rolling back their enforcement of water quality pollution issues, and that threatens to undo the progress we’ve made towards cleaning up our pollution in the ocean and in the atmosphere. So we need to act with urgency to protect our oceans and our communities, especially as the effects of climate change become ever more intense.”

Luce said the COVID-19 pandemic has also affected how people access the beach with uneven access cutting some Californians out of their right to access the ocean.

“Everybody in the state owns and cares for these beaches and should have access to our beaches, so Heal The Bay is very concerned about inequitable access during these periods of closures,” she said. “And it does not help when the closures are different all over the state and it certainly doesn’t make for equitable access when people can’t come get to the beach, park their car, use a restroom after a long drive, it really kind of makes it so that it’s only really accessible to the people who live right there. It’s this experience during the pandemic that has been a really poignant reminder of why it is so important to protect not only clean water but also beach access everywhere.”

While the health crisis has impacted residents’ ability to reach the ocean, Ginger said the danger is from people gathering too close together at the beach, not from access to the water itself.

“So COVID-19 has been detected by scientists in sewage and sometimes sewage makes its way into the ocean, as we have outlined in this report,” he said. “We do not know how long the virus survives in sewage or in the ocean. And we do not know if someone can contract COVID-19 from ocean water. Experts have stated that the transmission risk in ocean water is likely very low because the virus contained in sewage is usually quickly diluted once it’s in the ocean. There have also been no cases of COVID-19 extracted from water. The virus mainly spreads from person to person.”

2020 Beach Bummer List

  1. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve at San Vicente Creek Outlet, San Mateo – Storm Drain Impacted
  2. Poche Beach, at Creek Outlet Orange – Storm Drain Impacted
  3. Pillar Point Harbor, at Capistrano Ave. San Mateo – Enclosed
  4. Foster City, Erckenbrack Park San Mateo – Enclosed
  5. Topanga Beach, at Creek Outlet Los Angeles – Storm Drain Impacted
  6. Pillar Point Harbor Beach San Mateo – Enclosed
  7. Linda Mar, at San Pedro Creek Outlet San Mateo – Storm Drain Impacted
  8. Mission Bay, Vacation Isle North Cove San Diego – Enclosed
  9. San Clemente Pier Orange – Storm Drain Impacted
  10. Pillar Point Harbor, at Westpoint Ave. San Mateo – Enclosed