Pollution caused 2,596 beaches closures in 1996
provided by Natural Resources Defense Council
"San Diego County does monitor the beaches but we want to stress that it's not comprehensive and consistent," cautioned Everett DeLano, NRDC Senior Project Attorney. "For example, the county only monitors two days a month between April and August and it did not report the permanent closures. This is hardly a commendable record nor a effective way to protect public health."
The county responds that it is upgrading its monitoring program and will begin to test weekly at ten sites between the San Diego River and Torrey Pines State beach. During the winter, they will test every other week. But they don't have the funds to do more monitoring or increase the number of pollutant indicators they are testing for.
Just STOP it
Donna Frye, founder of Surfers Tired of Pollution (STOP) stated, "San Diego County should be commended for the monitoring it is doing. But we need to do a lot more, and especially with regard to enforcement. For surfers, the months when nature produces the best surfing conditions are the same times they're at the highest risk for getting sick." Aside from relatively regular sewage spills, polluted runoff along the county's 72 miles of beaches occurs mainly between November and April, when rainstorm runoff washes pollutants, including oils and animal waste, out via the storm drains which empty right at the shore.
STOP has been instrumental in badgering the San Diego City Council to begin to divert dry-weather flows from seven storm drains into the city's sewage treatment plant. But the idea that storm water runoff can be diverted is deemed too costly in our arid region.
Action Alert: Call on Pete!
Support the environmental flotilla in Sacramento
There has been a "flotilla" of legislation in Sacramento this session relating to coastal resources. Of particular interest to San Diegans are: AB 411 (Wayne) Beach Water Quality Monitoring; SB 499 (Alpert) Polluted Runoff; and AB 1228 (Ducheny) Public Beach Enhancement. During August, these bills, and others will be coming for their final approval. You should contact your State Senate or Assembly representative and ask for them to support the flotilla.
Just as important is the fact that Governor Wilson's administration has been opposing many of the bills. So maybe if some folks from his hometown start to call, he'll take notice. Write, call and FAX Governor Wilson urging him to support the coast and ocean "flotilla" bills:
Governor Pete Wilson
Further information on the status of the flotilla bills can be found on the CA Senate Website, www.sen.ca.gov/www/leginfo, or by calling NRDC at (415) 777-0220. Alerts and updates are available via email; send your request to: cqualznet.com.
It would require the State Department of Health Services to develop uniform statewide beach water quality criteria and monitoring standards. Regular monitoring would be required at all beaches, especially those adjacent to storm drains. Beaches that fail to meet the criteria would be required to post signs notifying the public of the health risks of swimming in the water. A 24-hour hotline number would also be established to let beachgoers know which beaches are polluted.
The other 49
California's pollution problems and spotty monitoring record echoes the rest of the country. NRDC found that eight states do no regular monitoring of beach water pollution for swimmer safety and notifying the public: Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina and Washington. Another fourteen states monitor only a portion of their coastline: California, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.
There are only seven states that comprehensively monitor their coastlines: Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Ohio. Only six states consistently close a beach if the standard is violated: Connecticut, Indiana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
To help educate consumers about pollution problems at the nation's beaches, NRDC rated 12 of the nation's most popular vacation beaches on whether they are regularly monitored for pollution and also warn beachgoers of pollution. Florida's Key West, South Carolina's Myrtle Beach, North Carolina's Outer Banks and Puerto Rico's entire coastline got the "thumbs down" rating. California's Venice Beach in Los Angeles, and Windansea Beach in San Diego, got "thumbs up" ratings, along with Cape May, New Jersey; and Jones Beach, New York. Those beaches receiving an intermediate rating were Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Ocean City, Maryland; Virginia Beach, Virginia; and Hawaii's Oahu beaches.
"We're glad that two of California's popular tourist destination beaches received good ratings," said Mr. DeLano. "But remember that the practice is voluntary, often erratic, and not consistent throughout California. It also does not mean that these beaches are always clean. Windansea, for example, has a terrible water pollution problem."
NRDC is calling for uniform national standards governing beach water monitoring and public notification. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced a new BEACH program that encourages states to adopt EPA's recommended criteria for recreational waters, provides technical assistance to states and local health departments and compiles information on beach monitoring and assessment activities. NRDC cautioned that the EPA's program does not go far enough because it continues to rely on voluntary compliance by the states and fails to ensure a consistent, high-level of protection for swimmers.
The report recommends cleaning up the sources of beach water pollution storm drains, sewer spills and overflows, polluted runoff as well as individual actions that include simple acts such as conserving water, keeping septic systems functioning properly and disposing of boating wastes appropriately.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 350,000 members nationwide and offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The Testing the Waters report is available through NRDC's website: http://www.nrdc.org