The release of Heal the Bay's 2016 beach report card spells good news for those looking to take a dip in the ocean this weekend, as 95 percent of the state’s beaches were given A or B grades. Long Beach continued its five-year streak of water quality improvements, nearly matching the statewide average with 93 percent of city beaches meeting the same levels of cleanliness.
Twelve of the 15 beaches in the city received an A grade and two received a grade of B. The only beach that received a C grade is the one located at 72nd Place near the mouth of the San Gabriel River, which separates the end of the peninsula from Seal Beach. The 80 percent A grades for Long Beach is nearly a 100 percent increase for A-rated beaches from the period of measurement between 2010-2015.
In a statement, Mayor Robert Garcia commented on the city’s efforts to continue to improve its water quality, adding that the city is in good shape, with beach season nearing.
“Our water quality continues to benefit from our partnerships, and our investments in technology and infrastructure improvements,” said Mayor Robert Garcia. “We work very hard to keep our beaches and waterways clean and we’re in a great place as summer season begins.”
The city has made strides toward limiting the amount of contaminants that reach the ocean. It has utilized a system of catch drains, oil-absorbing sponges and low-flow diversion systems to help funnel pollutants away from the city’s beaches. It’s also removed contaminated sediment from the Colorado Lagoon and improved its water circulation, and earlier this year the city inked a deal with the Army Corps of Engineers to study what could be done with the breakwater to further improve water circulation in Alamitos Bay.
Most recently, it entered into an agreement with CalTrans last month to install water treatment centers to mitigate urban runoff that enters storm drains. Expected to be completed by May 2021, the Long Beach Municipal Urban Stormwater Treatment (LB-MUST) is expected to treat about 40 percent of the first flush of urban runoff including harmful pollutants like metals, bacteria and trash.
Ironically, the drought has proved helpful for this part of the California water system. Due to the record low rainfall totals, a reduced level of storm runoff has been pushed into the ocean, which has been attributed in part to improving the water quality off the state’s coastline. The 95 percent mark reported this year is slightly above the state’s five-year average.
Most beaches suffer a drop-off in their beach scores when the wet weather hits, but Long Beach was pointed out as being the most affected by urban water runoff polluting its beaches. While the city scores well during the dry winter season (80 percent A or B grades), those scores do an about-face when storms hit the area. Every beach between 5th Street and the Belmont Pier received an F during wet weather.
“Once again, no other geographic location presented such a stark dichotomy between dry weather and wet weather grades than in Long Beach,” the report states. “Whereas 80 percent of the monitored locations received A grades in summer dry weather, the opposite was true for wet weather, with 80 percent of them receiving F grades.”
The report notes that, coincidentally, one of the two beaches that receives an A score during wet spells is the 72nd Place Beach, the only beach to receive a C for the months of April-October, the span of time that Heal the Bay monitored for its report. The report attributes this unique situation to the city being situated between both the San Gabriel and Los Angeles Rivers, two of the largest rivers in the county.
Still, Long Beach did avoid having any of its beaches listed on the Beach Bummer list, a compilation of the most polluted beaches in the state, according to Heal the Bay. Four beaches in Los Angeles and Orange County earned that dubious distinction this year including Monarch Beach in the OC and Marina del Ray’s Mother’s Beach, Redondo Municipal Pier and Santa Monica Pier.
Only 12 of the 456 beaches monitored by Heal the Bay (3 percent) received D or F grades for summer dry weather in this year’s report. Conversely, 34 beaches were named to the group’s honor role—they maintained an A+ grade year-round—including 14 in San Diego County.
“A day at the beach shouldn’t make anyone sick,” said Leslie Griffin, Heal the Bay’s chief water quality scientist and co-author of the report.“The reassuring news is that if you swim at an open-ocean beach in the summer away from storm drains, creek mouths, and piers you stand very little risk of getting ill.”