In a move to provide more up-to-date information to beachgoers, Heal the Bay announced earlier this month the launch of a beach water quality forecasting system, with initial information available for five beaches in three counties, including Long Beach’s own Belmont Pier.
Still in its early stages, the NowCasting tool delivers a same-day water quality forecasting system by predicting pollution and fecal bacteria levels at the beaches based on sampling data from previous years. The tool is available via the Beach Report Card app or website.
Predictions are made every morning during the summer based on current environmental conditions, Heal the Bay officials stated.
“NowCasting is a technique that uses predictive statistical models to forecast water quality at a beach based on observed environmental conditions—such as rainfall, waves, tides and past bacteria concentrations,” stated Ryan Searcy, Heal the Bay’s new beach water quality modeler.
The tool is currently only providing information for Long Beach’s Belmont Pier, Santa Monica Pier, Arroyo Burro (Henry’s) and East Beach (near Mission Creek) in Santa Barbara County, and Doheny State Beach in Orange County.
“Our team has developed complex models to predict the concentration of indicator bacteria on a daily basis,” Searcy stated. “If the bacteria level is predicted by the NowCast system to be above the acceptable standards set by the state, then water quality is assumed to be poor, and a beach posting is recommended. A new prediction will then be made the following day.”
It’s basically providing predicted results of water quality without actually having to take a water sample and test it, according to Long Beach Environmental Health Bureau Manager Nelson Kerr. He said they use the information from weekly samplings gathered and tested by local agencies over the last few years so they get an idea of what the water quality is normally.
“And it’s demonstrated to be fairly accurate,” Kerr said.
The only conditions the app does predict for are sewage or oil spills—both of which Long Beach has had to deal with in the last year.
Still, Kerr thinks the tool is much more efficient than current methods, which deliver results from the lab within 24 to 48 hours.
“I think it’s really neat, because it will give you a result for the same day instead of waiting for the test to come back and wait for the results the next day,” Kerr said.
The computer-based tool was developed as part of a pilot study launched last summer through a partnership between Heal the Bay, Stanford University and UCLA, and funded by the The California State Water Resources Control Board through the Clean Beach Initiative program.
Beach water quality experts developed and tested more than 700 different beach models using years of historical data on environmental conditions and bacteria levels from 25 beaches in California, according to Heal the Bay.
“Our philosophy at Heal the Bay is that no one should get sick from a day at the beach,” Searcy stated. “To make a decision about which beach is best for them and their family, people should be armed with the most accurate and timely water quality information available. Think of the water quality NowCast just as you do sunscreen—protect yourself from poor water conditions before you get in the water.”
For more information on Heal the Bay and the new system, click here.
Above, left screenshot of Beach Report Card app by Stephanie Rivera.