While the drought may carry the upside of keeping pollution from washing onto many California beaches, a report released Wednesday suggests that nearly 1 in 10 beaches statewide is still too dirty for swimming.
The Natural Resources Defense Council’s report “Testing the Waters 2014” found that unsafe levels of bacteria, most of it carried in creeks and storm drains from urban areas, continues to plague the coast.
The problem is concentrated in San Francisco Bay, where stiller water has made San Mateo County’s Parkside Aquatic and Lakeshore parks and San Francisco’s Candlestick Point at Windsurfer Circle among the least healthy coastal spots in the state, the report shows. The three sites tested positively for unsafe levels of pollutants roughly half the time or more.
On the ocean side, San Francisco’s Baker Beach and San Mateo County’s Pillar Point tested poorly, while Santa Cruz County’s popular Capitola Beach also got bad marks.
“When you have less rain, you have less water carrying pollution to our beaches, but that can’t be our solution,” said Noah Garrison, staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s water program. “The overall trend is that there’s a substantial pollution problem.”
Raw sewage, household toxins like fertilizers and motor oil, and any number of industrial pollutants are flushed from cities down drain pipes and ultimately into the sea.
Millions of people are sickened each year by coming into contact with the polluted water, according to the report. Stomach flu, skin rashes and lung infections are just a few of the ailments.
The report evaluated nearly 3,500 beaches nationwide on how well they met the Environmental Protection Agency’s benchmark for safe swimming, known as the Beach Action Value.
The benchmark is stricter than state thresholds that require beach closings. The measure is designed to be a precautionary tool for beachgoers.
Because the annual report used the EPA’s measure for the first time, long-term trends on beach cleanliness are more difficult to pinpoint. However, the report’s authors said results were fairly similar when the new measure was applied retroactively.
In California, 9 percent of beach samples taken in 2013 exceeded the threshold for safe swimming. That was just under a 10 percent figure nationwide.
A similar report on water quality by the organization Heal the Bay, released in May, found that Bay Area beaches were seeing improvements. Much of the progress, though, was attributed to dry weather conditions, with creeks and waterways so shallow in many areas that they’re not carrying as much urban runoff.
The Natural Resources Defense Council said safety testing should be done more regularly, standards for beach closings should be tightened, and cleanup of upstream pollution sources should be expanded.
Bay Area’s dirtiest beaches
A report by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that the following beaches were most frequently found to have unsafe levels of bacteria in the water. The figures shown reflect the percentage of tests that exceeded a threshold considered safe for swimming by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Parkside Aquatic Park (San Mateo County): 64 percent
Lakeshore Park (San Mateo County): 48 percent
Candlestick Point at Windsurfer Circle (San Francisco): 47 percent
Mitchells Cove Beach (Santa Cruz County): 42 percent
Capitola Beach west of jetty (Santa Cruz County): 33 percent
McNears Beach (Marin County): 32 percent
Baker Beach, Lobos Creek at lower parking lot (San Francisco): 28 percent
Pillar Point near West Point Avenue (San Mateo County): 28 percent
Kiteboard Beach (San Mateo County): 23 percent
Candlestick Point at Sunnydale Cove (San Francisco): 22 percent
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