Long Beach received mostly A and B grades in Heal the Bay's annual water quality report.
Last year’s wet winter may have pulled California out of its years-long drought but the influx of water had one noticeable negative impact as it dragged down water quality scores in a number of beaches across the state.
The figures released today by Heal The Bay, a nonprofit that releases annual reports about beach water quality in California, showed that the Long Beach coastline had 92 percent of its beaches receive A or B grades during the summer dry weather, but received F grades across the board when it rained.
Figures for the summer dry months outpaced the 5-year average for Long Beach with 11 of its beaches receiving A grades on this year’s report versus the average of eight beaches falling into that category annually between 2011-2016.
Long Beach saw improvements in its summer dry weather grades over its 5-year average. Photo: Table from the Heal the Bay 2017 report
“Our investments in technology and infrastructure improvements is paying off as we continue to see increase in our water quality,” said Mayor Robert Garcia in a statement. “Keeping our beaches and waterways clean for the safety of residents and visitors is our priority.”
Heal the Bay’s report noted that Long Beach’s unique placement between two of the largest rivers in Los Angeles County—the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers bookend the city’s coastline—“likely contributes to its poor wet weather grades.” When it does rain, the stagnant water and trash in both those rivers is flushed into the water off of Long Beach, and because of its breakwater, tidal activity is not able to circulate contaminants out as quickly as other beachfront cities.
The city is currently in the middle of a study in collaboration with the United States Army Corps of Engineers that is examining the feasibility of removing parts of or the entirety of its breakwater structures in an effort to increase water circulation, wave activity and restore aquatic environments that have perished due to poor water quality.
Both Seal Beach and San Pedro, Long Beach’s neighbors on the coastline, saw their water quality scores dip dramatically as well. Seal Beach also scored F grades across the board when it rained and San Pedro, with the exception of Cabrillo Beach which registered an A+ grade during wet weather, saw all of its scores decline, too.
2017 was one of the wettest years in recent history with Long Beach receiving nearly 19.5 inches of rain, the most since 2010-2011 when it received 18.88 inches of rain. Los Angeles County more than doubled the five-year average for rainfall and had the highest tally of precipitation of any county south of Santa Barbara last year.
The report categorized beaches into three categories: open ocean, enclosed and storm drain impacted, the latter being defined as those adjacent to a creek, river or storm drain (natural or concrete).
Long Beach beaches more or less followed the statewide trend of those storm drain impacted beaches scoring A and B grades with 90 percent of beaches earning those marks during summer dry periods, 62 percent during winter dry periods (statewide average was 88 percent) but dropped dramatically below the statewide average of 52 percent when it rained.
Nearly half of the 85 beaches in Los Angeles County monitored by the group received F grades from Heal The Bay when it rained last year. Conversely, no beaches in the county received failing grades during the summer months.
Eight beaches in the county, including Malibu and Palos Verdes Estates, made the report’s honor roll, which is a distinction given to any beach that has registered an A+ grade during all seasons, wet or dry, and two beaches from the county made it onto the report’s “Beach Bummer” list, those beaches registering the poorest dry weather quality in the state. Long Beach beaches did not make it onto either of those lists.
The group notes that swimming at a beach with a water quality grade of C or lower “greatly increases” the risk of contracting stomach flu, ear infections, rashes or upper respiratory infections. Only one beach in the city (off Coronado Avenue) fell into that category on this year’s report.
The city has taken measures to improve its water quality in recent years, securing a $4.9 million grant from the State Water Resources Control Board to build low-flow diversion systems and a vortex separation system to separate pollutants like motor oil, dog waste and fertilizers from water runoff headed to the ocean.
A separate diversion project called LB-MUST is slated for construction in early 2018. The project would divert runoff water to a treatment facility to be recycled. The project is expected to be completed by 2021.
These efforts come in combination with trash-capturing devices deployed by Long Beach and its upriver neighbors that help remove hundreds of tons of trash from storm channels annually, according to a city release. It also recently celebrated the reopening of Colorado Lagoon, a phase of the city’s overall efforts to reconnect the lagoon with Alamitos Bay to improve both bodies’ overall year-round water quality.
“We recently celebrated new improvements to the Colorado Lagoon,” said Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price, who represents the district that includes the lagoon. “I hope that our city’s high water quality ratings will encourage the community to come out and enjoy this beautiful place and our coastlines that have made incredible improvements in water quality in the past few years."