By Gary Walker
Despite general improvements in coastline water quality up and down the state, pollution remains a “bummer” for two local beaches.
Marina “Mother’s” Beach in Marina del Rey and the shoreline near the Santa Monica Pier ranked as some of the state’s most polluted beaches in Heal the Bay’s Beach 2014 Report Card, which analyzed water quality up and down the California coast.
Mother’s Beach was No. 3 on Heal the Bay’s “Beach Bummers” list of most polluted shorelines in the state, and Santa Monica Pier ranked seventh.
Heal the Bay analysts assigned letter guides from A to F based on measurements of bacterial pollution at 92 beach monitoring sites in Los Angeles County over several reporting periods.
About 90% of L.A. County beaches received A or B grades for the high-traffic summer period of April through October 2013, a 6% overall improvement from last year.
Also on the brighter side, the stretch of Venice Beach near Windward Avenue made the report’s Honor Roll, posting an A+ grade for water quality.
Dockweiler State Beach in Playa del Rey also had an excellent report card, posting all As.
Kirsten James, Heal the Bay’s science and policy director for water quality, attributed Venice Beach’s high score to storm water collection projects that the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation has initiated in Venice over the past several years.
“One of the reasons that we’ve seen trends in improving water quality statewide is the low amount of precipitation over the last year, so in general I think we’re seeing upward trends. But I also think this speaks to the fact that the city of Los Angeles is doing some great work to basically capture [storm water runoff] before it gets into the ocean,” James said.
James noted that decreased rainfall levels during the statewide drought created less opportunity for urban runoff and may have been a factor in water quality improvements at many beaches. More than 95% of monitored California beach sites posted A or B grades.
Mother’s Beach, a popular destination for families with small children, has historically posted poor Beach Report Card grades due to a lack of water circulation, according to the report. Mother’s Beach is located at the back of Marina del Rey harbor, where it is susceptible to urban runoff but protected from waves and tides that can flush out toxins.
“That’s a very sad story, because there are so many children who go to that beach because it’s sort of protected from the tides. We see trends with enclosed beaches like that where there tend to be poorer grades because there’s less circulation,” James said.
A water circulation device near Mother’s Beach was apparently not functioning properly during tests, which might have affected pollution levels, she said.
Los Angeles County Dept. of Beaches and Harbors spokeswoman Carol Baker confirmed that water circulators at Mother’s Beach were out of commission for a good portion of last year and didn’t come back online until fall.
The water circulators “are like two giant propellers located under the docks [around Mothers Beach] that basically circulate the water. On the surface you can see the tiniest movement because of them, but they’re circulating the water below,” Baker said. “We’re hoping that, with the circulators now functioning, the water quality will improve.”
County flood control upgrades underway at Oxford Basin may also help filter storm water runoff before it flows into the harbor, she said.
Infrastructure disrepair may also be to blame for Santa Monica Pier’s low score — specifically broken netting to prevent bird roosting on the pier, said James, which led to an accumulation of animal waste.
Los Angeles Waterkeeper Executive Director Elizabeth Crosson said she is optimistic that water quality improvements at locations such as Venice Beach are being driven by storm water collection efforts, but the next wet year will be the true test of their effectiveness.
“I certainly hope the city’s projects have yielded great results, but I would like to see how these projects behave when we have more precipitation,” Crosson said. “We don’t have any evidence that the pollution has stopped. At this point it looks like it’s not getting into the ocean.”
City storm water collection efforts are funded by Proposition O, a 2004 water bond supported by more than 70% of Los Angeles voters. The measure authorized the city to issue $500 million for water protection projects and beach pollution prevention.
The first project to benefit from those funds was the Grand Avenue Tree Wells Project, installed near the corner of Rialto Avenue and Alhambra Court in 2008.
A $14-million Proposition O project at Penmar Park in Venice includes a storm water storage tank capable of retaining 2.75 million gallons and will be used to irrigate the baseball field and golf course.
Bureau of Sanitation Director Enrique Zaldivar said there are about 40 Proposition O storm water projects happening throughout Los Angeles.
“With the independent research that Heal the Bay does on water quality, that validates the correlation of our projects and what we’re doing to improve water quality,” he said.
Explore Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card at healthebay.org