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Record-low rainfall means cleaner beach water

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POSTED May 23, 2014 8:07 p.m.

SANTA CRUZ  (AP) — Record-low rainfall during California’s lingering drought has resulted in less runoff and cleaner water at beaches up and down the coast, according to a new report.

The overall quality of coastal water was “excellent” during past year, the environmental advocacy group Heal The Bay said in its annual “Beach Report Card.”

Ninety-five percent of California beaches earned A or B grades for water quality during the summer of 2013 — a two percent improvement over the previous year, the group said.

“During drier weather conditions there is less overall runoff, which is the main source of pollutants, such as bacteria, to the beach water,” stated the report, released Thursday. Last year was the driest in 119 years of California record-keeping.

The analysis used water-quality test results from hundreds of beaches from April 2013 to March 2014 to assign each a grade of A to F based on the level of bacteria in the water, which can indicate pathogens that can sicken swimmers.

Improvements were seen even at Los Angeles County beaches, which have long been among the most polluted in the state. In 2013, 90 percent of the county’s beaches earned A or B grades — compared with 84 percent during the previous year’s summer season, which runs from April to October.

Cowell Beach along the wharf in Santa Cruz topped Heal the Bay’s “Beach Bummers” list, with the dubious distinction of having the worst water quality in the state.

Ninety percent of weekly tests conducted on the beach last summer indicated bacteria levels higher than state standards. Cowell Beach has been on the infamous list for the past five years, taking the No. 2 spot in 2012 and 2013.

Three Los Angeles County beaches made the “Beach Bummers” list: Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey, Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro and the popular beach at the Santa Monica Pier.

The leading cause of water pollution at beaches is urban runoff, which as a result of rain or irrigation sweeps contaminants through creeks, storm drains and rivers to the coast.

To address the problem, Heal the Bay recommends local governments adopt new fees and ordinances to build rain- and runoff-capturing infrastructure that would prevent contaminated water from reaching the shore.

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