The Green Gate
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Beachwater Quality
Better Monitoring Protects Swimmers' Health but Reveals Extensive Pollution
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Though Bay Area waters are known to be chilly, our beautiful and rugged beaches attract many hardy swimmers, windsurfers, boaters, and divers each year. What many of them may not know is that the water they enjoy could be contaminated and pose health risks. As of 1999, California law requires increased monitoring of beachwater, and with this increased monitoring has come a greater number of beach closings and swimmer advisories. San Francisco, San Mateo, and Sonoma all saw jumps -- a sign that we are only now beginning to understand the true extent of water pollution at our beaches. But not all counties are notifying the public about the results of their monitoring. So while some beachgoers are protected from swimming in contaminated waters, others are not.

NRDC analysts looked at data covering beach advisories (posted warnings) and closings in California for the period 1999 to 2000 -- that is, since monitoring of popular beaches and beaches adjacent to storm drains became mandatory. Under legislation enacted in 1997, beaches that receive 50,000 visitors annually or that are located in areas adjacent to storm drains that flow in the summer must be monitored weekly. Samples must be tested for three indicator organisms: total coliform, fecal coliform, and enterococcus. Beaches that fail to meet state criteria for any of these indicators must be posted with conspicuous warning signs that notify the public of health risks associated with swimming there.

In San Francisco, the number of reported closings and advisories increased from 8 in 1999 to 31 in 2000. San Mateo saw a huge increase -- from 94 in 1999 to 276 in 2000. Sonoma had a modest increase, from 27 in 1999 to 33 in 2000. In 1999 and 2000, Alameda and Marin reported that they were monitoring beaches, but both counties failed to provide any information about monitoring results in both years. While testing for beachwater pollution is essential, in the end swimmers won't be adequately protected unless the sources of pollution are cleaned up.


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