PACIFICA, Calif. (KRON) — Two popular surfing spots, a marine wildlife reserve, and a harbor are among the 10 biggest “Beach Bummers” this year for having poor water quality during the summer, according to Heal the Bay.
The Los Angeles-based environmental nonprofit issued its 30th-annual “Beach Bummers” List Tuesday afternoon, naming 10 beaches with the worst water quality in California according to its water samples. Heal the Bay tested bacteria levels at more than 500 beaches up and down California’s coastline, and assigned A-to-F letter grades for each one in its report.
Water quality for the “Beach Bummers” is focused on samples recorded during dry summer months. Winter rainstorms flush pollutants into the ocean, so higher bacteria levels are expected to spike during stormy weather. Beaches are marked with a “Bummer” distinction for having poor water quality even during dry summer months.
Heal the Bay wrote, “The notorious Beach Bummer list–a ranking of the 10 most polluted beaches in the state — includes six bacteria-impaired beaches within San Mateo County. This is an unusually high number of beach bummers for a single county. The remaining four beach bummers are located in Southern California and are frequent pollution offenders.”
Three of the 10 “Bummers” are all located within one harbor, Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay. Heal The Bay wrote, “Unfortunately, it appears that the entire harbor was more polluted than normal this past year. There are several storm drains that carry pollutants into the harbor in dry weather, and the seawalls around the harbor prevent pollutants from getting flushed away from the beach.”
Linda Mar, a Pacifica beach beloved by Bay Area surfers, is No. 7 on the “Bummer” list. Linda Mar is negatively impacted by San Pedro Creek’s runoff water flowing untreated into the ocean, according to Heal the Bay.
This year’s No. 1 “Bummer” was Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, also in San Mateo County. The dirty distinction surprised local residents and park rangers. The beach is designated as a Marine Protected Area and human activity is limited, especially during harbor seal pupping season. The beach is currently blocked off with metal fencing to the public, a signs featuring harbor seals read, “STOP. Harbor seal resting area.”
Heal the Bay’s researchers said they were also surprised by Fitzgerald landing in the No. 1 spot, however, they suspect runoff from San Vicente Creek is the culprit for causing water quality to dramatically drop when they recorded water samples.
High bacteria levels occur in ocean waters due to natural and unnatural sources, and pinpointing the sources can be challenging. When Cowells Beach in Santa Cruz was ranked as the No. 1 biggest “Bummer” in past years, city officials spent years trying to figure out how to lower bacteria levels in the water. This year, Santa Cruzans will be stoked to find out that Cowells fell off the list.
Water quality scientist Luke Ginger said an investigation by San Mateo County officials will be needed to determine why Fitzgerald now tops the list.
Heal The Bay 2019-2020 “Beach Bummers” List:
1. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, at San Vicente Creek Outlet (San Mateo County)
“Fitzgerald Marine Reserve has never appeared on the Beach Bummer list before. The beach generally has good summer water quality, but is impacted by dry weather runoff from San Vicente Creek. This beach is one of six San Mateo County Beach Bummers this year, which is unprecedented for one county.”
2. Poche Beach, at Creek Outlet (Orange County)
“Poche Beach is no stranger to the Beach Bummer list, appearing on the list in 2018, 2013, 2012, and 2011. The beach is impacted by the Prima Deshecha Cañada storm drain (referred to as Poche Creek), which carries pollution into the ocean even during dry weather from the Dana Point area.”
3. Pillar Point Harbor, at Capistrano Avenue (San Mateo County)
“Pillar Point Harbor at Capistrano Avenue is one of three Pillar Point Harbor Beach Bummers this year. There are several storm drains that carry pollutants into the harbor in dry weather, and the seawalls around the harbor prevent pollutants from getting flushed away.”
4. Foster City, Erckenbrack Park (San Mateo County)
“Erckenbrack Park is a first time Beach Bummer; however, this area of the San Francisco Bay has had a known record of poor water quality. This beach lies within an engineered patchwork of enclosed channels that are impacted by dry weather runoff from the surrounding residential and commercial developments.”
5. Topanga Beach, at Creek Outlet (Los Angeles County)
“A 2014 study found Topanga Lagoon as the likely source of bacteria pollution at Topanga Beach. The lagoon sees high amounts of bird and dog fecal matter. When breached, the fecal matter flows into the ocean resulting in high bacteria concentrations. Planning for a lagoon restoration is underway and could mitigate poor water quality.”
6. Pillar Point Harbor Beach (San Mateo County)
“Pillar Point Harbor Beach is the second of three Beach Bummers contained within the Pillar Point Harbor. Unfortunately, it appears that the entire harbor was more polluted than normal this past year.”
7. Linda Mar Beach at San Pedro Creek (San Mateo County)
“Linda Mar Beach is making its third consecutive appearance on the Beach Bummer list this year, and is one of six San Mateo County Bummers. This beach is impacted by runoff during dry weather, which flows untreated into the ocean through San Pedro Creek.”
8. Mission Bay, Vacation Isle North Cove (San Diego County)
“Vacation Isle North Cove is an enclosed beach in Mission Bay that is impacted by dry weather runoff from the surrounding commercial and residential developments. Pollutants are not easily flushed away from this enclosed beach, which is located within a deep cove.”
9. San Clemente Pier (Orange County)
“San Clemente Pier is making its second consecutive appearance on the Beach Bummer list and is one of two Orange County Beach Bummers this year. This beach is impacted by untreated dry weather runoff that flows into the ocean through a storm drain.”
10. Pillar Point Harbor, at Westpoint Avenue (San Mateo County)
“Rounding out the Beach Bummer list is Pillar Point Harbor at Westpoint Avenue, which is the third Pillar Point Harbor Beach Bummer and one of six San Mateo County Beach Bummers this year. Untreated dry weather runoff appears to be causing significant water quality problems in this enclosed harbor.”