Marina Beach water quality plummets; Santa Monica Pier improves

By Gary Walker

Poor water circulation often traps pollution at family-favorite Mother’s Beach

Last summer Marina “Mother’s” Beach posted one of the biggest water-quality comebacks in state history, achieving an A on Heal the Bay’s annual Beach Report Card after several years at the back of the class on its “Beach Bummers” list. Following extensive winter rainfall and concurrent urban runoff, however, Mother’s Beach is back on the list of the state’s dirtiest beaches — No. 7 to be exact.

It’s the opposite story, however, at Santa Monica Pier. A perpetual member of the Beach Bummers list, it escaped the dishonor roll this year for the first time since 2013. Santa Monica officials credit the installation of a new stormwater capture and diversion tank near Santa Monica Pier for improving water quality at the historic trouble spot.

“This was a really rainy year, and now we have a 1.6 million gallon cistern that we’re using to recapturing and reuse our stormwater runoff,” said former Santa Monica Chief Sustainability Officer Dean Kubani, who retired last month. “It’s been a huge help in capturing stormwater and lowering [the Beach Bummer] grade.”

The latest Beach Report Card tested beaches in summer dry season, winter dry weather and year-round wet weather conditions from April 2018 to March of this year.

Mother’s Beach got a D in summer, but an F in both dry winter and wet weather conditions. As an enclosed beach with limited water circulation, Mother’s Beach is already at a disadvantage with poor circulation and increased susceptibility to sea bird guano, despite county repairs to its water circulator and efforts to discourage bird roosting. Water experts believe historic levels of rainfall from early January through mid-March simply overwhelmed the beach with urban runoff and the pollutants that come with it.

“You can have good grades at Mother’s Beach during the dry seasons, but it all comes to a roaring end when it rains,” said John Dorsey, a professor of marine biology at Loyola Marymount University. “Probably the best way [to reduce bacteria levels] is to try and prevent runoff when it rains. … It’s been going on there for decades, and it’s a tough problem.”

Dorsey added that bacteria can get into sand and “live for a long time” at Mother’s Beach, but last year L.A. County officials trucked in new sand and has been grooming it to increase the sun’s ability to sanitize it, said L.A. County Beaches and Harbors spokeswoman Nicole Mooradian.

Another potential contributing factor to poor water quality grades could have been numerous sewage spills amounting to about 1.5 million gallons, including six spills into Ballona Creek.

The report did include good news, however, for other Los Angeles County beaches. Most received excellent warm weather grades, with 91% posting an A or a B in summer — when they are most heavily utilized — prior to the arrival of winter storms.