Lack of Rain Improves Southern California Beaches, New Heal the Bay Report Says

Drought-like conditions over the last year have greatly improved water quality at Southern California beaches including in Long Beach, according to Health the Bay’s latest annual survey released last week.

Less rain means less bacteria-laden runoff—containing trash, fertilizer, pet waste, metal and automotive fluids—that ends up on shorelines, according to a release from the environmental nonprofit.

“The poor wet weather grades compared to dry weather grades demonstrates the impact of stormwater runoff on beach water quality,” stated Health the Bay’s 28th annual Beach Report Card, which grades the water quality in beaches up and down the California coast based on shoreline data provided by counties. “Beachgoers who come in contact with polluted waters have a much higher risk of contracting illnesses such as ear infections, upper respiratory infections, skin rashes and the stomach flu.”

Long Beach is very familiar with the impact of rainy days. Since last year, the city’s health department has issued a handful of advisories after each rainfall that result in the closure of the city’s beaches and bays for a few days at a time. This is due to the increased runoff from storm drain outlets and rivers (like the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers, which also serve as flood control channels) which eventually reach the city’s shorelines. There were three rain advisories in 2018 alone.

The two rivers are also spots where injured or at-risk sea animals can be found, like late last year, when two sea turtles were rescued from the San Gabriel River and just over the weekend when a sea lion and her newborn pup were rescued from the LA River—both in Long Beach.

UPDATE FROM THE FIELDThis female sea lion gave birth to her pup in the flood control channel in Long Beach, California – a very poor location, as they were miles from the ocean. It was in best interest of both animals that they were rescued by MAR.#MarineAnimalRescue #OceanLife

Posted by Marine Animal Rescue on Sunday, June 10, 2018

“The City will continue to work with upstream cities, state and federal regulatory agencies and other stakeholders to address impacts from stormwater runoff,” city officials stated in response to the report.

However, Heal the Bay scientists remain concerned about the “long-rage prognosis for beach water quality—given our state’s boom-and-bust rain cycles,” Heal the Bay officials stated in the release.

Heal the Bay said it is for that reason that it is supporting a measure on the November ballot in Los Angeles County that is supposed to publicly fund the creation of infrastructure for increased stormwater capture.

Long Beach officials said they are currently undergoing infrastructure improvements, using grant funding and undertaking regional partnerships and technology to meet quality standards compliance goals and improve water quality in the city.

One of those improvements include the completed Colorado Lagoon Restoration Phase 2B (a component of the Colorado Lagoon Master Restoration Plan) that created subtidal and eelgrass habitats and a vegetated bioswale (shallow marshy-like channel) to assist with removing pollution from surface runoff water.

The upcoming Long Beach Municipal Urban Stormwater Treatment project will capture and “treat stormwater from 12,000 acres in Long Beach to reduce pollution that enters the Los Angeles River and local beaches,” according to the city.

City officials also said under the Clean Beaches Initiative the city constructed low flow diversion systems meant to prevent non-stormwater discharges from reaching the area’s two major storm drain lines and pump the water into the sewer. It allows it to be recycled or treated prior to final discharge.

“Additionally, ponding on the beach will be eliminated during dry-weather, reducing health concerns for contact recreation on the beach,” city officials stated in regard to the initiative. “As a result, a zero-day exceedance is expected from these outfalls during dry-weather.”

Finally, as part of the Stormwater Capture Project, a series of underground chambers parallel with the Los Cerritos Channel have already been constructed to divert stormwater and non-stormwater runoff from flowing into the channel estuary, the Alamitos Bay and city beaches. The yet-to-be completed project will treat an area covering about 2,100 acres and is an effort between the cities of Long Beach and Signal Hill as well as Caltrans.

Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card analyzed 94 beaches in Los Angeles County, with its scientists assigning A-F letter grades to each. About 97 percent of them received A or B grades for the high-traffic summer period (April-October 2017)—a 6 percent increase from the five-year-average, according to the nonprofit. The grades were assigned during three reporting periods in the 2017-2018 report and were based on levels of bacterial pollution each week measured by county health agencies.

According to the report, Los Angeles recorded 8.45 inches of rain—well below the five- and ten-year averages. The county also had the largest number of sewage spills with 64 separate events that spilled more than 200,000 gallons of sewage. Four of the spills reached the ocean, including at Marina del Rey and Alamitos Bay where 7,500 gallons of sewage spilled last year. Earlier this year, about 8,300 gallons of spillage entered the storm drain in LA and flowed into the Los Angeles River, closing swimming areas west of Belmont Pier.

Of 15 locations in Long Beach, 14 received excellent summer grades, but D or F grades in wet weather, according to the report. Considered “storm drain impacted beaches”, these Long Beach locations usually receive high water quality grades during summer dry weather but lower grades during the wet weather when urban pollution runoff happens.

These Long Beach locations received the following grades:

Long Beach

Summer Dry


Winter Dry


Wet Weather


projection of 5th Place A B F
projection of 10th Place A B F
projection of Molino Avenue A B F
projection of Coronado Avenue B A F
Belmont Pier, westside A D F
projection of Prospect Avenue A C F
projection of Granada Avenue B B F
Alamitos Bay, 2nd St. & Bayshore A A+ D
Alamitos Bay, shore float A A+ C
Mother’s Beach, north end B B F
Alamitos Bay, 56th Pl – bayside A A F
City Beach, projection of 55th Pl A A F
City Beach, projection of 72nd Pl A A F
Colorado Lagoon – north A B D
Colorado Lagoon – south A B F


The report also released a Beach Bummer List, which ranks the 10 most polluted beaches in the state. In Los Angeles County, it included Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro and the Santa Monica Pier. An honor roll list, which includes beaches that have received A+ grades during all seasons and weather conditions, includes the following Los Angeles county locations: El Matador and Escondido state beaches in Malibu, Dan Blocker and Las Tunas county beaches in Malibu, El Segundo Beach at Grand Avenue, Bluff Cove in Palos Verdes Estates, and Abalone Cove Shoreline Park and Portuguese Bend Cove in Rancho Palos Verdes.

For the full Beach Card Report click here.

Support our journalism.

Hyperlocal news is an essential force in our democracy, but it costs money to keep an organization like this one alive, and we can’t rely on advertiser support alone. That’s why we’re asking readers like you to support our independent, fact-based journalism. We know you like it—that’s why you’re here. Help us keep hyperlocal news alive in Long Beach.

Stephanie Rivera is the immigration and diversity reporter for the Long Beach Post. Growing up as one of six kids in the working-class immigrant suburb of South Gate, she was taught the importance of civic engagement and to show compassion for others. After graduating from CSULB with a degree in journalism, Stephanie worked for Patch Latino and City News Service before coming to the Long Beach Post in 2015. An avid Harry Potter fan, Stephanie now lives in Bixby Knolls with her boyfriend and their bearded dragon, Austin.