Long Beach’s dirty ocean water at Coronado Avenue, west of Belmont Pier, makes it one of the 10 worst beaches in the state, according the 2018-2019 Beach Report Card released Wednesday by Heal the Bay. It’s the first time the beach has made the group’s “Beach Bummer” list.
On the bright side, the report singled out the city’s long-term project to restore Colorado Lagoon North, a “chronic Beach Bummer” — on the 10 worst list until 2012 — but dramatically improving in water quality thanks to the work.
Throughout Southern California, 95% of beaches received an “A” or a “B” for water quality in the summer. Of 33 Honor Roll beaches with perfect grades, two were in Los Angeles County and 10 were in Orange County. None were in Long Beach.
But unusually high winter rainfall in Southern California meant just half of the region’s beaches scored above a “C” during wet winter days.
“Rain washes pollutants and contaminants into the ocean thus lowering water quality,” says the report, which used water quality data from county health agencies. “Beachgoers who recreate at beaches after a rain event have an increased risk of contracting ear infections, eye infections, upper respiratory infections, skin rashes and gastrointestinal illness.
“Approximately 1 million ocean beachgoers contract illnesses each year in Los Angeles and Orange counties, with total healthcare costs of $20 (billion) to $50 billion.”
Contributing to the region’s dirty water over the past year were 124 sewage spills in Los Angeles and Orange counties and November’s Woolsey Fire in the Malibu area.
Heal the Bay recommends avoiding the water at beaches with a “C” grade or below and staying out of the ocean for three days after it rains. The Santa Monica-based group’s NowCast app and NowCast online site predicts daily water quality at more than 20 beaches.
Climate Change’s Effect
With scientific assessments that climate change is leading to more extreme periods of rainfall and more extreme wildfires, the report notes the domino effect on ocean waters.
“Major wildfires … can have a big impact on water quality because fires damage sewage infrastructure and increase the amount of runoff due to vegetation loss,” the report says.
After the Woolsey Fire — a seasonal period Heal the Bay defines as “dry winter” — only 57% of Malibu beaches received grades higher than “C.” That was a marked change from the previous five years, when the 87% of those beaches received an “A” or “B” during dry winter months.
“Governments, leaders and the public must take immediate action to mitigate the effects of climate change and pollution,” the report says. “Many local governments have made enormous efforts to identify and eliminate runoff entering the ocean, but across the board there are still improvements to be made.”
The report notes steps that have been taken at specific locations to improve water quality. On a larger scale, more than two thirds of Los Angeles County voters last year approved Measure W, which will result in $300 million in new annual parcel taxes to be used to capture stormwater runoff and reduce pollutants entering the ocean.
Bummer At Coronado Avenue
The report defines three types of beaches and how they differ in water quality. Open beaches without obstructions or urban runoff tend to get the best scores in both wet and dry weather. Meanwhile, beaches that have stream, river and storm-drains flowing into the ocean tend to score poorly. So do enclosed beaches, which include those found at marinas, harbors and lagoons.
Long Beach is particularly susceptible to water pollution during rains. The Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers both empty into the ocean in Long Beach, and breakwater jetties in the area limit ocean circulation that otherwise would help disperse pollution farther offshore.
The beach at Coronado Avenue is one of three Los Angeles County beaches on this year’s Beach Bummer list, coming in as the fourth worst beach statewide.
Part of the blame is placed on dry weather runoff that flows into the ocean at the beach through a storm pipe, the report says. It also points out steps the city is taking to address dirty water in San Pedro Bay.
“Currently, the city of Long Beach is implementing the Municipal Urban Stormwater Treatment (MUST) project,” the report notes. “The MUST project will catch stormwater and treat it before it can enter the L.A. River and subsequently impact ocean beaches. The treated water will ultimately be used to support wetland restorations."
Other Positive Steps
Heal the Bay’s report focuses on Colorado Lagoon North as a “Beach Improvement Highlight.” While it still received an “F” during wet winter months, it received a “C” during dry winter months and an “A” during the summer. The restoration has been going on for a decade, with one key step being landscape engineering to divert runoff from the neighboring Recreation Park Golf Course so that it goes into the sewer system rather than the lagoon.
Additionally, a trash separation device helps catch refuse before it enters the lagoon. Also, polluted sediment has been removed from the site. Those improvements were completed in 2012, the year the lagoon made it off the Beach Bummer list.
Ongoing work includes increasing the connection between the lagoon and the ocean.
“This will allow for more water circulation in the lagoon, which has been shown to impact water quality,” the report says. “This phase will also restore the wetland habitats throughout the lagoon remove invasive species.”