Ashley Napier, Special to the Daily Press

Heal the Bay has released their annual beach report card for 2021 on the cusp of Fourth of July weekend, giving us a glimpse of the safest options to enjoy a nice day at the beach.

The Santa Monica based non-profit’s mission is to preserve and protect coastal waters and watersheds with the annual report serving as a foundation of their public education efforts.

Heal the Bay CEO and President, Shelly Luce gave her rundown of the 2021 Beach Report Card, in the shadow of the Chevron Oil refinery and the Hyperion sewage treatment center on beautiful El Porto beach.

The annual report is used as a free, comprehensive tool the public can use to stay up-to-date with the latest water quality information at their favorite beach along the California coast and Tijuana beaches. The report assigns an A-to-F rating “based on levels of bacterial pollution in the ocean measured by county health agencies” to help beachgoers know when it’s safe to swim, according to last year’s report card.

Luce explains that “California beachgoers enjoyed excellent water quality” as we flocked back to the beaches in the summer of 2020, where 93 percent of California beaches scored an A to B rating. Although, the same cannot be said for 2021.

“This past year we’re flunking,” says Luce, “only 57 percent of our beaches received A or B grades when it’s safe to swim.” She attributes this trend to the historic lack of rainfall over the past year, a characteristic that usually “would result in better grades,” but this has had the opposite effect. With longer periods between rainfall, “pollutants including bacteria and viruses” build up around the city, creating a greater amount of devastation to our oceans when rainfall does occur — causing multiple “first flushes” as Luce calls it.

With the mention of a large number of California beaches marking a grade of a C or below on their 2021 report cards, Luce gives us the “Beach Bummer List ‘’— the top ten worst quality beaches in California. Only one LA county beach made the list, at number five — Marina Del Rey’s Mothers Beach. The popular spot for Marina locals is a “perennial” on the bummers list, says Luce, who attributes the little wave action and shallow, enclosed space to be a hotspot for “high bacteria counts.”

Santa Monica Pier evades the beach bummer list, but historically scores low water quality averages, and is currently listed at a “D” rating at best. Heal the Bay staff Scientist Luke Ginger notes that Santa Monica has made “a step in the right direction” with projects such as the Clean Beaches Project for Pier Drainage Basin — a concrete subgrade stormwater runoff storage tank north of the Pier, but that beachgoers should “be aware of some of the signs of potential for water quality” such as regularly checking the Beach Report Card and staying at least 100 yards away from storm drains when swimming.

Along with the beach bummers list, Heal the Bay releases an honor roll for the beaches that score an “A+” rating year-round. Of the 500 monitored beaches in California, 35 made the honor roll this year, down from 42 the previous year.

Orange County tops the list with 10 beaches making the honor roll this year including Newport Bay Promontory Point; Crystal Cove; Newport Beach at Orange Street; Newport Beach at 52nd/53rd Street; Balboa Beach Pier; Balboa Beach The Wedge; Crystal Cove; 1000 Steps Beach; North Aliso County Beach; and Treasure Island Beach.

Followed by Los Angeles County with seven beaches on the honor roll, an improvement from three the previous year. The Los Angeles County honor roll includes: Royal Palms State Beach, Leo Carrillo Beach at Arroyo Sequit Creek; Puerco State Beach at the creek mouth; Las Flores State Beach at Las Flores Creek; Broad Beach at Trancas Creek; Escondido State Beach at Escondido Creek; and Nicholas Beach at San Nicholas Canyon Creek.

Ventura County also upped their marks from last year, making seven beaches on the honor roll, previously only placing one on the list with most of them focused in the Oxnard area. Those beaches include; C.I. Harbor, at Hobie Beach Lakeshore Dr; Oil Piers Beach, south of storm drain Ventura Silverstrand, at Sawtelle Ave.; Ormond Beach, 50 yards north of Oxnard Industrial drain; Ormond Beach, at Arnold Rd.; Faria County Park, at stairs.

Heal the Bay not only deals with the negative effect that pollutants have on our oceans, but on our fresh water sources. Ginger gave a rundown of the third annual river report card that focuses on LA county rivers, lakes and streams. The river report, unlike the beach report, does not assign a letter grade, but gives a red, yellow or green grade.

Of the 28 sites sampled in Los Angeles County, 70 percent of the issued grades were green meaning that the “water quality was at a safe level, on most days, during the summer months” according to Ginger. To improve this score, Ginger calls on government agencies to “increase water quality monitoring and public notifications while taking steps to improve water quality at these sites.”

Heal the Bay is working with Assemblymember Richard Bloom to put forward legislation that will begin to address the lack of monitoring and standardization in freshwater” according to Ginger. He goes on to explain that “this piece of legislation will task the California water quality monitoring council with defining and identifying freshwater recreation sites across the state, as well as make recommendations for an appropriate monitoring program at these locations.”