Pollution caused 2,596 beaches closures in 1996

Numerous closings in San Diego County from spills and polluted runoff

provided by Natural Resources Defense Council
ollution from sources such as over- flowing sewers and storm drains caused at least 2,596 closings or advisories last year along the nation's beaches, according to the Natural Resource Defense Council's annual report, Testing the Waters VII: How Does Your Vacation Beach Rate?, released this July. California beach closures and advisories days totaled 1,054; San Diego County had 269, mostly due to storm water runoff pollution and sewage spills. San Diego experienced the second-highest number pollution-related beach closures among the ten coastal California counties that regularly test for bacteria (seven coastal counties do no monitoring at all).

"San Diego County does monitor the beaches but we want to stress that it's not comprehensive and consistent," cautioned Everett DeLano, NRDC Senior Project Attorney. "For example, the county only monitors two days a month between April and August and it did not report the permanent closures. This is hardly a commendable record nor a effective way to protect public health."

The county responds that it is upgrading its monitoring program and will begin to test weekly at ten sites between the San Diego River and Torrey Pines State beach. During the winter, they will test every other week. But they don't have the funds to do more monitoring or increase the number of pollutant indicators they are testing for.

Just STOP it

Donna Frye, founder of Surfers Tired of Pollution (STOP) stated, "San Diego County should be commended for the monitoring it is doing. But we need to do a lot more, and especially with regard to enforcement. For surfers, the months when nature produces the best surfing conditions are the same times they're at the highest risk for getting sick." Aside from relatively regular sewage spills, polluted runoff along the county's 72 miles of beaches occurs mainly between November and April, when rainstorm runoff washes pollutants, including oils and animal waste, out via the storm drains which empty right at the shore.

STOP has been instrumental in badgering the San Diego City Council to begin to divert dry-weather flows from seven storm drains into the city's sewage treatment plant. But the idea that storm water runoff can be diverted is deemed too costly in our arid region.

Permanent closings

Mr. DeLano said that in addition to the 269 closings and advisories listed in this year's NRDC report, there were three permanent beach closings: Imperial Beach from the international border to Seacoast Drive; San Luis Rey River in Oceanside; and Loma Alta Lagoon in Oceanside. NRDC defines "permanent closings" as those closings lasting longer than twelve weeks.

"Furthermore, the county and numerous other dischargers in our area are violating federal law on a regular basis," Mr. DeLano noted. "NRDC and the San Diego BayKeeper are threatening lawsuits against the County and are suing several area polluters including Caltrans, and Southwest Marine for storm water pollution violations."

NRDC's report highlights the inconsistency between monitoring practices from county to county throughout California, which makes it impossible to assess pollution problems at some beaches. Only 10 of California's 17 coastal counties regularly monitor ocean and bay waters. They are: Alameda, Los Angeles, Monterey, Orange, San Diego, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, and most recently, Santa Barbara.

Beach water quality monitoring in California is voluntary and testing is left up to the counties. This year, concerned about the problem of spotty beach safety programs in the state, San Diego Assemblyman, Howard Wayne introduced A.B. 411. Assemblyman Wayne's bill proposes a state version of the National Beach Protection Program called for in Testing the Waters.



Action Alert: Call on Pete!

Support the environmental flotilla in Sacramento

There has been a "flotilla" of legislation in Sacramento this session relating to coastal resources. Of particular interest to San Diegans are: AB 411 (Wayne) Beach Water Quality Monitoring; SB 499 (Alpert) Polluted Runoff; and AB 1228 (Ducheny) Public Beach Enhancement. During August, these bills, and others will be coming for their final approval. You should contact your State Senate or Assembly representative and ask for them to support the flotilla.

Just as important is the fact that Governor Wilson's administration has been opposing many of the bills. So maybe if some folks from his hometown start to call, he'll take notice. Write, call and FAX Governor Wilson urging him to support the coast and ocean "flotilla" bills:

Governor Pete Wilson
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814
Telephone: (916) 445-2841
Fax: (916) 445-4633

Further information on the status of the flotilla bills can be found on the CA Senate Website, www.sen.ca.gov/www/leginfo, or by calling NRDC at (415) 777-0220. Alerts and updates are available via email; send your request to: cqualznet.com.


It would require the State Department of Health Services to develop uniform statewide beach water quality criteria and monitoring standards. Regular monitoring would be required at all beaches, especially those adjacent to storm drains. Beaches that fail to meet the criteria would be required to post signs notifying the public of the health risks of swimming in the water. A 24-hour hotline number would also be established to let beachgoers know which beaches are polluted.

The other 49

California's pollution problems and spotty monitoring record echoes the rest of the country. NRDC found that eight states do no regular monitoring of beach water pollution for swimmer safety and notifying the public: Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina and Washington. Another fourteen states monitor only a portion of their coastline: California, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

There are only seven states that comprehensively monitor their coastlines: Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Ohio. Only six states consistently close a beach if the standard is violated: Connecticut, Indiana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Vacation ratings

To help educate consumers about pollution problems at the nation's beaches, NRDC rated 12 of the nation's most popular vacation beaches on whether they are regularly monitored for pollution and also warn beachgoers of pollution. Florida's Key West, South Carolina's Myrtle Beach, North Carolina's Outer Banks and Puerto Rico's entire coastline got the "thumbs down" rating. California's Venice Beach in Los Angeles, and Windansea Beach in San Diego, got "thumbs up" ratings, along with Cape May, New Jersey; and Jones Beach, New York. Those beaches receiving an intermediate rating were Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Ocean City, Maryland; Virginia Beach, Virginia; and Hawaii's Oahu beaches.

"We're glad that two of California's popular tourist destination beaches received good ratings," said Mr. DeLano. "But remember that the practice is voluntary, often erratic, and not consistent throughout California. It also does not mean that these beaches are always clean. Windansea, for example, has a terrible water pollution problem."

National standards

NRDC is calling for uniform national standards governing beach water monitoring and public notification. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced a new BEACH program that encourages states to adopt EPA's recommended criteria for recreational waters, provides technical assistance to states and local health departments and compiles information on beach monitoring and assessment activities. NRDC cautioned that the EPA's program does not go far enough because it continues to rely on voluntary compliance by the states and fails to ensure a consistent, high-level of protection for swimmers.

The report recommends cleaning up the sources of beach water pollution storm drains, sewer spills and overflows, polluted runoff as well as individual actions that include simple acts such as conserving water, keeping septic systems functioning properly and disposing of boating wastes appropriately.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 350,000 members nationwide and offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The Testing the Waters report is available through NRDC's website: http://www.nrdc.org