Environmentally Speaking

Cleanest and Dirtiest Beaches in California

California is home to 840 miles of pure Pacific coastline. With all the research on how our warming climate is changing our oceans from species extinction to ocean acidification to urban runoff to tempestuous waves, which California beaches are doing better, and which, worse?

According to Heal the Bay, an environmental organization which releases a weekly and annual report card on beach cleanliness in California on an A to F ranking based on bacterial analysis. The 2015-2016 annual report card was released pitting the “Honor Roll” beaches (those that received an A+ rating) against the “Beach Bummers” (those that received an F).

Cowell Beach, Santa Cruz

Cowell Beach, Santa Cruz

The ten dirtiest beaches are as follows:

1.     Cowell Beach, Santa Cruz

2.     Clam Beach, Humboldt

3.     Shoreline Beach Park, San Diego

4.     Monarch Beach, Orange

5.     Santa Monica Pier, Los Angeles

Children playing in Marina del Rey's Mother's Beach.

Children playing in Marina del Rey's Mother's Beach.

6.     Mother’s Beach, Marina Del Rey, Los Angeles

7.     Redondo Municipal Pier, Los Angeles

8.     Candlestick Point-Sunnydale Cove, San Francisco

9.     Pillar Point, San Mateo

10.  Pismo Beach Pier, San Luis Obispo

Ten of the cleanest (in no particular order):

1.     Hollywood Beach, Ventura

2.     El Matador State Beach, Los Angeles

3.     El Moro Beach, Orange County

4.     Oceanside, San Diego

5.     Carlsbad, San Diego

6.     Dana Point, Orange County

7.     San Clemente, Orange County

8.     Escondido State Beach, Los Angeles

9.     Port Hueneme, Ventura

10.  Cardiff State Beach, San Diego

The level of contamination is measured by county officials year-round, gathering data during wet or dry seasons. More or less rainfall affects urban runoff levels, sewage, and temperature.

The water samples are gathered at “point-zero” sources, near the mouth – so to speak -- of potential contaminants (sewage outlets, drains, rivers or creeks) so as to make the calculations across the coast as accurate as possible. The indicator bacteria include total coliform, fecal coliform (E. coli), and enterococcus. It is not so much the level of fecal bacteria that would render a beach-goer ill (though higher levels are to be avoided), but rather pathogenic microorganisms attracted by this kind of human and animal waste that might cause viral outbreaks, or spread contagious infections.

Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card, while a commendable and necessary body of data for all California residents and government officials to help make informed decisions, is restrictive in that it studies almost exclusively fecal contaminants, as well as oil and sewage spills. While these are extremely important environmental impacts to take into account, the research might be improved by also incorporating other factors.

For example, some future research questions might be: do certain areas see more sea life than others? What kind? Why or why not? What are the pH levels of these beaches? Is there a correlation between high population density of certain cities and counties and the overall water quality?

As of right now, that which places a beach in third or fourth place is based solely on a point system. While this is a more objective scientific approach, it might not be one that looks into all complexities of this “wicked problem” of sustainability.

Heal the Bay does mention at the end of each of its reports that the current water quality guidelines set in place by EPA’s BEACH Act in 2000 are what determine government funding to maintain those beaches. Under the current Obama Administration, the newly proposed budget would cut $10 million from this monitoring program. This would gravely affect the quality of the research by forcing government agencies to conduct studies only part of the year rather than full-time, and there would be no more room to test anything other than fecal contaminants.

With something as precious as our oceans, that’s a dangerous gamble to make.  




Works Cited

1) Crowe, Allan, Dr. "Groundwater Flow and Contaminant Transport in Coastal Environments." Wasaga West Beach Association (2009): n. pag. Web. 11 Sept. 2016.

2) Heal the Bay. 2015-16 Beach Report Card. Rep. no. 26. SIMA (Surf Industries Manufacturer Association); Swain Barber Foundation, 16 May 2016. Web. 11 Sept. 2016.

3) Infoplease. "Longest Coastline." Infoplease. Infoplease, 2000-2016. Web. 11 Sept. 2016.