State Slips in Beach Report as U.S. Supreme Court Takes L.A. County Pollution Case

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Just days after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a Los Angeles County appeal of a decision requiring it to clean up polluted runoff that flows to the ocean, a beach report card from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) finds the state registered more beach closures and advisories in 2011 than the year before.

Testing the Waters, an annual analysis of water quality and public notification, reported a slight decrease nationally in beach closings and advisories from the year before, but a 3% increase in California. Despite the national improvement, it was still the third worst year in the report’s 22-year history. Two-thirds of the nationally-reported problems stemmed from bacteria levels that exceeded public health standards, which often means the presence of human or animal waste.

The NRDC, along with Santa Monica Baykeeper, sued Los Angeles County and its flood control district in 2008, alleging that they violated the Clean Water Act by allowing tainted water released into the San Gabriel and Los Angeles rivers to reach the sea. The county argued they weren’t responsible because they weren’t the actual polluters, but the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. The county appealed to the high court. Storm runoff has long been identified as a primary source of beach pollution. Environmental groups made a similar pitch in federal court to have the county held responsible for pollutants from the Santa Clara River and Malibu Creek but lost that argument.    

The NRDC has been at odds with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over proposed new beach pollution standards that it says are, in some ways, less stringent than the 25-year-old criteria they would replace. According to the NRDC, the proposed EPA standards would find acceptable a 1-in-28  chance of suffering a gastrointestinal illness from swimming.

California was the 10th worst state, out of 30 that have shorelines (including those bordering the Great Lakes), for percentage of beach water samples that exceeded the nationally recommended bacterial standard. Louisiana was, by far, the worst at 29%. California checked in at 9%.

The NRDC report also rated 200 popular beaches in the country based on violation rates, awarding 5 stars to the best. Three California beaches got the top rating—Bolsa Chica Beach, Huntington State Beach at Brookhurst Street, and Newport Beach at 38th Street and 53 Street—and three got only one star—Venice Beach at Topsail Street, and Imperial Beach in San Diego at two locations, Carnation Avenue and Imperial Beach Pier.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:     

L.A. County Beach Pollution Case Goes to U.S. Supreme Court (by Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times)

Testing the Waters (Natural Resources Defense Council)

NRDC Annual Beach Report: Closing & Advisory Days Hit Third-Highest Level in Two Decades (Natural Resources Defense Council)

Beach Pollution at Third-Highest Level in 22 Years (by Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times)

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