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A fecal matter: LA beaches closed again due to sewage spills

by E Jo (writer), San Diego, February 07, 2007

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Two Los Angeles beaches are closed once again due to sewage spills: Will Rogers State Beach at Santa Monica Canyon storm drain (Chautauqua) in Pacific Palisades and Dockweiler State Beach at Ballona Creek in Playa del Rey. The closed section spans from 100 yards on either side from the point of discharge. In addition, warning signs have been posted at the Santa Monica beach at Wilshire Blvd. storm drain, spanning 50 yards on both sides of the drain. According to LA’s Department of Health Ocean Water Monitoring Program, “A beach is closed anytime there is a known sewage or chemical spill impacting ocean waters. Water contact may cause someone to become ill. When a beach is closed, the Department of Public Health advises beach users to avoid all contact with ocean water in the closure area and where closure signs are posted.”

The beaches of Santa Monica and other beaches have been consistently closed due to high bacteria counts and sewage spills. For such a nice part of LA, one would think the beaches here would be clean and safe for swimming. This same section of beach at Will Rogers State Beach was just closed on 01/19/07 for 4 days due to sewage spills. Dockweiler State Beach at Ballona Creek was also closed for 3 days on 08/08/06. Other beaches such as Santa Monica Beach at Montana Ave. drain, Surfriders Beach (breach only) and Malibu pier have also been closed due to spills. Year round swimming is a thing of the past in California.

As an ocean swimmer, water quality is the last thing I need to worry about. Far beyond the breakers, ocean temperature, visibility, swells, currents, jelly fish, manta rays, leopard sharks, and sea lions occupy my mind. Fleeting visions of myself starring in the leading role in Jaws VI dance in my head to the unforgettable two-note shark theme song (thanks Spielberg). Now I have to add E. coli to the list! Somehow the thought of unknown bacteria and viruses surreptitiously slipping into my orifices horrifies me more than an underwater battle with the revenge seeking great white.

Fortunately, there is an online daily report of beach water quality for southern California beachgoers. The non-profit environmental organization Heal the Bay believes, “The public has the right to know the water quality of their favorite beaches.” Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card is a comprehensive water quality analysis of California beaches tabulated in grade A-F format. The higher the grade a beach receives, the lower the risk of illness to ocean users. For example, Will Rogers State Beach at Santa Monica storm drain has received 13 weekly F’s since 11/07/06 on dry weather data, i.e., not somewhere I’ll be swimming.

I’m equally shocked by and envious of my surfer friends that suit up and surf in this salty microbe fest without a care in the world. “I’ll be all right,” announced with a smile and a pat on my shoulder to alleviate my concerns. Yes, ignorance is bliss. Apparently they didn’t take Molecular Virology and Microbiology in college and therefore were left unharmed by the unspeakable horrors that were permanently branded in my psyche. Classes that may have been more appropriately named ‘Human Invaders: a Horrific History of Infectious Disease’ or ‘What’s Going to Kill You Next’ (lecture and lab).

Ignorance is bliss but it also may cause major skin rashes, ear infection, stomach flu, or upper respiratory infections. “When you swim in water with significant concentrations of these bacteria indicators, the potential for contracting illnesses increases” (Heal the Bay). Beaches that are adjacent to a flowing storm drain and that have 50,000 visitors annually are tested on a weekly basis for three specific bacteria indicators: total coliform, fecal coliform and enterococcus. These indicator bacteria are usually not the microorganisms that cause swimmers or surfers illness, however, their presence in significant concentrations indicates the existence of other pathogenic microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, and protozoa that do pose health risks. If state standards for bacterial indicators are exceeded, local health officials are required to post warnings or close the beach.

Ironically Venice beach has a better score card than Santa Monica beaches. There may be more visible trash on the beaches in Venice but the bacteria counts are lower. The stretch of beach from Santa Monica at Pico Blvd. drain to Venice beach at Topsail St. drain have grades of A’s and B’s (excluding Venice beach area at Brooks Ave. drain which currently has an F). Venice is where you will see me swimming.

We’ve come a long way since 1985 when the City of Los Angeles was dumping barely treated sewage into Santa Monica Bay. With the outcry of angry citizens, like Dorothy Green (founder of Heal the Bay), Heal the Bay joined the EPA in the lawsuit already pending against the City of Los Angeles. Because of these actions, the City consented to comply with the Clean Water Act. Since then the waters have seen the return of animal and plant life with the cleaner waters. Unfortunately, the battle is not over since we still see the warning and closure signs like the ones posted yesterday. Conveniently, we can check a website to find the safest beaches. The Beach Report Card should be used like the SPF rating in sunblock. Beachgoers should determine what they are comfortable with in terms of relative risk, and then make the necessary decisions to protect their health.


Up to date CA beach closures and/or warnings:
http://www.healthebay.org/brc/closures.asp

Weekly Beach Report Card grades for LA:
http://www.healthebay.org/brc/grademap.asp?map=3

LA Dept. of Health beach advisories:
http://www.lapublichealth.org/beach/

10 ways to help heal the bay:
http://www.healthebay.org/waystoheal/default.asp


About the Writer

E Jo is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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9 comments on A fecal matter: LA beaches closed again due to sewage spills

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By brookekb on February 07, 2007 at 10:06 pm
"a fecal matter"...very clever, and very scary!
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By V on February 07, 2007 at 10:37 pm
I heart 'Heal the Bay.'
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By V on February 07, 2007 at 10:45 pm
Oh and, it took my into the middle of Summer before I gave in and got in the water. When I first arrived, I honestly believed that if I ventured into the water here, I'd grow a third eye. I was terrified of beaches that well, I considered filthy with strange, dirt-like sand. But then I found, the brilliant resource,'Heal the Bay' and it gave me the knowledge I needed to put my mind at ease and let me enjoy the surf, illness free. I swim off 28th in Venice. It tends to have regular 'A's.'
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By E Jo on February 07, 2007 at 11:01 pm
Yes you're in a good spot. Right now Venice beach at Windward Ave. and Venice beach at Topsail St. both have A+'s for both dry grade and wet grade. You're right in between there. Venice beach at the pier has A+ dry grade and F wet grade. Although things always change. I bet you didn't have to deal with this in Australia?
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By Steven Lane on February 07, 2007 at 11:15 pm
Surfers Point in Ventura, ALWAYS gets notices posted of closure after a storm but it never stops the surfers. You can literally see the difference in the water.
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By Ariel on February 07, 2007 at 11:32 pm
Very interesting article! Any explanation as to why the Venice water is so clean compared to Santa Monica?
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By E Jo on February 08, 2007 at 02:05 am
Good question. I assume it is due to inefficient storm drains and increased runoff in these specific areas right now. Venice has mostly good grades compared to Santa Monica but these change daily. Storm drains direct contaminated runoff from urban areas directly to the ocean with NO treatment. Contaminated runoff comes from highways, industries, lawns, farms, oil from cars, pesticides, fertilizer, paint, detergent, animal feces etc.(anything that goes down that drain in the sreet). The rivers, streams and wetlands that would have naturally filtered these pollutants before they reached the ocean have been paved over with concrete to make room for more people. As to why it is better in Venice, I don't have the complete scientific answer right now but I can get it and will let you know :)
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By V on February 08, 2007 at 03:10 pm
I don't know either. I'd love to know. But it's good to remember that pretty much every single thing that you throw on the street ends up in our oceans (that's including washing your car with detergents on the street etc). I have to say that generally, a lot of Australians seem to be conscious of this fact. Never swimming a day or two after big rain is a good, general rule.
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By E Jo on February 08, 2007 at 03:48 pm
I'm going to get the answer, the question has piqued my curiousity. Yes, do not swim for 72 hrs. after the LAST day of a rain.
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