Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay has released its 16th annual Beach Report Card for 2005-2006, and Los Angeles County had the state’s lowest grades, with the five most polluted beaches in the state and seven of the top ten.

Only 68 percent of Los Angeles County beaches scored an A or a B letter grade from Heal the Bay, compared to the statewide average of 85 percent that got A’s and B’s during dry weather.

Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card, a comprehensive evaluation of coastal water quality based on daily and weekly samples gathered at beaches from Humboldt County to the Mexican border, assigns an A to F letter grade to more than 450 California beaches based on their levels of bacterial pollution.

A poor grade means beachgoers face a higher risk of contracting illnesses — such as stomach flu, ear infections, upper respiratory infections, and skin rashes — than swimmers at cleaner beaches.

The report card covered the period from April last year through March this year, and grades were given for dry periods and wet periods.

For dry periods, all beach points measured from Santa Monica Beach at Montana Avenue in Santa Monica to Dockweiler Beach opposite the Hyperion Treatment Plant in Playa del Rey received an A grade except:

B —Venice Beach projection of Topsail Street;

C — Santa Monica Beach at Pico/Kentner storm drain; and

F — Santa Monica Municipal Pier and Dockweiler Beach at Ballona Creek mouth.

For wet periods the grades were:

A — Venice Beach at Brooks Avenue drain and Dockweiler Beach at World Way and Hyperion Treatment Plant.

B — Santa Monica Beach at Montana Avenue drain, Wilshire Boulevard drain, Strand Street in front of the restrooms.

C — Venice Beach at Windward Avenue drain and projection of Topsail Street, and North Westchester Storm Drain at Dockweiler State Beach.

D — Ocean Park Beach at Ashland Avenue storm drain.

F — Santa Monica Municipal Pier, Santa Monica Beach at Pico/Kentner storm drain, Marina del Rey Mothers Beach at lifeguard tower, Dockweiler State Beach at Ballona Creek mouth and Culver Boulevard drain, and Dockweiler State Beach at Imperial Highway drain.

According to the 2005-2006 report, overall water quality in dry weather continues to be good, meaning that the majority of California’s beaches are in great condition for swimming and surfing throughout the upcoming summer season.

Approximately 85 percent of the beaches monitored statewide received a grade of A or B, meaning very good to excellent water quality.

“We’re happy to report that most beaches in the state continue to have safe levels of bacteria during the summer months, especially open ocean beaches,” said Mark Gold, executive director of Heal the Bay.

As in past years, there continues to be a great disparity between dry and wet weather, when water quality typically plummets, due to the pollution that rain flushes through the storm drain system and into the ocean.

While 80 percent of the beaches monitored in Southern California during summer dry weather received A grades, that number dropped to only 37 percent during wet weather, with 31 percent of the beaches monitored receiving an F grade.

Heal the Bay’s report shows that some of the popular beaches in Southern California, including Surfrider in Malibu and Avalon on Catalina Island, are some of the most polluted.

A beautiful beach isn’t necessarily a clean beach, according to Heal the Bay.

“This Beach Report Card demonstrates that just because you go to the beach in a multi-million dollar neighborhood doesn’t guarantee it is safe for swimming,” said Gold. “Whether you are in San Pedro or in Malibu, you have a chance of being next to a highly polluted beach. Beach water quality knows no geographic or economic bounds.”

Last year, monitoring programs were modified to collect samples directly in front of flowing storm drains and creeks, locations known as “point zero,” and 14 new Santa Monica Bay sites from Malibu to Palos Verdes were added under the beach bacteria Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) requirements.

The new monitoring program for Los Angeles County demonstrates that people who swim directly in front of flowing storm drains are more likely to encounter highly polluted waters.

The Los Angeles County Health Department did not act on more than a year’s worth of the new monitoring data, failing to notify the public of beach pollution at any of the 14 beaches, according to Heal the Bay.

Eight of those “new” beaches received F grades in the prime beach season from April 1st to October 31st.

The health department receives the information within 48 hours of its collection, and did not inform beach cities of the extent of their water quality problems, never posted warning signs at the beaches, and never released media advisories warning the public of potential health risks, according to Heal the Bay.

The most polluted beach in California goes to four locations in North Santa Monica Bay that tied for heavy pollution — Escondido Beach and Puerco Beach at the Marie Canyon storm drain in Malibu and Castle Rock Beach at the Castlerock and Santa Ynez storm drains in Pacific Palisades.

Large parts of the California coastline got a letter grade of A, including the South Bay of Los Angeles County to Palos Verdes, Seal Beach to Huntington Beach, Newport to San Clemente, stretches of Ventura County, and nearly all beaches in North San Diego County.

“The public has a right to get water quality information that will help them make informed decisions about where to take their families swimming,” Gold said. “The Beach Report Card helps families understand which beaches they can visit without fear of getting sick.”

By assessing fecal bacteria levels and making this information available to the public, the Beach Report Card is designed to protect the public health of the more than 100 million people who visit California’s beaches.

Local health agencies complete routine monitoring of the beaches and analyze water samples for bacteria that indicate pollution from numerous sources, including fecal waste.

Beach Report Card weekly and annual updates are available at www.healthebay.org

Heal the Bay, celebrating its 21st year, is dedicated to making Santa Monica Bay and Southern California watersheds and coastal waters safe and healthy again for people and marine life, using research, education, community action, and advocacy to achieve its goals.

The nonprofit environmental organization is one of the largest in Los Angeles County with more than 10,000 members.

The organization focuses on education, outreach, research and advocacy through programs like Coastal Cleanup Day each September and the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.

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