There Is Nothing Like Epic Drought to Bring out the Best at California Beaches

Monday, May 26, 2014

While the overwhelming majority of scientists on the planet aren’t looking forward to climate change, the Heartland Institute, the “world’s most prominent think tank supporting skepticism about man-made climate change,” keeps track of global warming’s benefits for those people who do.

Now, according to Heal the Bay, they can add California’s drought to the list of bountiful gifts, like more drought-resistant plants, bestowed on nature by man. The environmental organization’s annual Beach Report Card (pdf) says California’s beaches have never been cleaner and, giving credit where credit is due, attributes the improvement to California’s extended record drought.

“Statewide wet weather water quality was near an all-time high this year (most likely due to the driest year on record in California) with 69% A or B grades, besting the five-year average by 12%,” according to the report, which measured overall quality between April 2013 and March 2014..

The news was even better for the period April through October 2013. “Beaches in California had excellent water quality overall this past year, with 432 of 455 (95%) locations receiving excellent or good (A or B) grades during the summer dry weather period.”

Three years of dry weather have reduced urban runoff and the flow of pollutants that are the principle source of bacteria and other yucky stuff that makes people sick. The report cites a study of regional health that found gastrointestinal illness from frolicking in Orange and Los Angeles County polluted ocean waters cost $21 million to $51 million annually.

The report monitored more than 600 beaches during three distinct periods: “summer dry weather” between April and October 2013; “winter dry weather” from November 2013 to March 2014; and “year-round wet weather conditions.” The news was good for all periods, although the report warns that it probably won’t last.

Forecasters are predicting a 78% chance that an El Niño will blow into California off a warm ocean this winter, bringing increased rains that could range from drizzle to drenching. But even a fairly strong El Niño is unlikely to push California’s dismal rainfall figures beyond 50% over average.

But for now, 33 monitoring locations are basking in the glory of their A+ grades during all three time periods. All but six of them are in Southern California. The biggest success story is Avalon Beach on Catalina Island, a perennial leader in Heal the Bay’s “Beach Bummer” list. In Avalon’s case, the $5.7 million the city spent on sewer improvements probably had something to do with it falling off the Top 10 most polluted beaches for the first time since 2000.   

This year’s Beach Bummer List is:

1. Cowell Beach at Wharf (Santa Cruz County)

2. Marina Lagoon (San Mateo County)

3. Marina del Rey Mother’s Beach (Los Angeles County)

4. Cabrillo Beach harbor side (Los Angeles County)

5. Stillwater Cove (Monterey County)

6. Clam Beach County Park (Humboldt County)

7. Santa Monica Pier (Los Angeles County)

8. Pillar Point Harbor (San Mateo County)

9. Capitola Beach west of jetty (Santa Cruz County)

10. Windsurfer Circle (San Francisco County)

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

The Coast Is Clear: Water Good at Most Bay Area Beaches (by Carolyn Jones, San Francisco Chronicle)

Drought's Upside? Better Water Quality at Beaches, Report Says (by Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times)

Study Links California Drought to Global Warming (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

2013-14 Annual Beach Report Card (Heal the Bay) (pdf)

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