Marking significant improvement, overall water quality at California beaches this summer was excellent, according to the 2007 End of Summer Beach Report Card released September 27th by Heal the Bay.

Heal the Bay assigned a letter grade from A to F to 494 beaches along the California coast, based on levels of bacterial pollution reported from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.

This summer, 92 percent of beaches received A or B grades during the reporting period.

These good grades represent a nearly ten percent rise from last year, when only 83 percent of monitoring locations earned A or B grades.

California’s record low rainfall this year, which limited polluted urban runoff in storm drain systems, played a major role in better water quality, according to the Beach Report Card, and enhanced infrastructure at several sites also led to rising grades. There were only 38 locations in the state that received fair-to-poor water quality grades.

The Beach Report Card is based on the routine monitoring of beaches from Humboldt County to the Mexican border by local health agencies and districts. Water samples are analyzed for bacteria that indicate pollution from numerous sources. The better the grade a beach receives, the lower the risk of illness to ocean users.

“The combination of record drought and completed Clean Beach Initiative projects led to the cleanest summer water quality in years,” said Mark Gold, president of Heal the Bay. “With more beach cleanup projects on the horizon, the prospects for this positive summer becoming a trend are great.”

The completion of numerous dry-weather runoff diversions, treatment plants and source abatement efforts has led to improved water quality at numerous California beaches, according to Gold.

Los Angeles County once again has the worst ocean quality grades in the state, with 17 percent of its beaches earning Fs during the summer.

On a positive note, Santa Monica Bay monitoring locations received high marks this summer, with 93 percent As and Bs, actually surpassing the statewide average. Only four of the 67 Santa Monica Bay beaches earned poor marks this summer, compared to 16 last year.

“Los Angeles County’s stormwater program has definitely made a difference through our low-flow diversions at local beaches, our multifaceted public education program, and partnerships with Heal the Bay and other water quality partners,” said Diego Cadena, deputy director of the Los Angeles County Public Works Department. “Yet, we recognize there is still more to do to achieve our long-term water quality goals.

“Clean beaches start with clean communities. We will continue to work with the public and our city partners to encourage those behaviors that keep pollutants out of storm drains and away from our county’s coast.”

Despite improvements, a few Santa Monica Bay beaches still regularly exceeded newly adopted bacteria standards from April 1st to September 3rd. Santa Monica Municipal Pier, Dockweiler State Beach at Ballona Creek, Marie Canyon in Malibu and Redondo Municipal Pier beaches were the worst offenders, according to the report.

Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card is made possible by the support of Ford Motor Company, the Goldhirsh Foundation and “simplehuman.”

A fact sheet detailing the exact methodology used in determining grades for each location is available at www.healthebay .org/brc/methodology/.