State Summary: California

Ranked 11th in Beach Water Quality (out of 30 states)
9% of samples exceeded the national Beach Action Value for designated beach areas in 2013.

Summer 2014 is filled with opportunities to improve water quality throughout the United States and to better protect people's health in the process. Everyone can now support a long-awaited rule to enhance protections for small streams and wetlands—these waters can minimize polluted runoff that contributes to poor beach water quality, and can filter out contaminants that promote algae blooms.

State and federal officials have ample legal tools today to rein in stormwater pollution at the city and regional scale. And beach managers can use a new and important tool, the health-protective Beach Action Value developed by the EPA, to make swimming advisory decisions that more fully safeguard public health.

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California 2013 Beach Water Quality Summary

The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act helps states and local governments develop monitoring programs to protect public health. Through these programs local officials test beach water for bacteria and issue closings or advisories when bacteria levels exceed a certain threshold. The EPA recently issued a new Beach Action Value (BAV), which is a more protective threshold than the national allowable bacteria levels used in previous years to trigger beach advisories. The EPA considers the BAV to be a "conservative, precautionary tool for making beach notification decisions." While the use of the BAV is currently optional, the EPA's proposed National Beach Guidance and Required Performance Criteria for Grants would require states receiving BEACH Act funding to use the BAV to trigger beach notifications. In light of this information, in assessing 2013 beach water quality NRDC has chosen to use the BAV in order to best protect beachgoers from water quality health risks.

California has beaches along more than 700 miles of coastline on the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. Historically, the California Department of Health Services administered the BEACH Act grant. Starting in 2012, the California State Water Resources Control Board provided $1 million in funding and began administering the state's beach monitoring program, as well as the BEACH Act grant. Beachgoers can access information about water quality on the state's "Is It Safe to Swim in Our Waters?" website.

What Does Beach Water Monitoring Show?

In 2013, California reported 729 coastal beaches and beach segments, 501 of which were monitored. Of all reported beach monitoring samples, 9% exceeded the Beach Action Value (BAV) of 60 enterococcus bacteria colony forming units (cfu) per 100 ml marine or estuarine water in a single sample. NRDC considers all reported samples individually (without averaging) when calculating the percent exceedance rates in this analysis. This includes duplicate samples and reported samples taken outside the official beach season, if any.

The beaches with the highest percent exceedance rates of the BAV in 2013 were Aquatic Park in San Mateo County (64%); Lakeshore Park in San Mateo County (48%); Candlestick Point, Windsurfer Circle in San Francisco County (47%); Inner Cabrillo Beach, San Pedro in Los Angeles County (44%); and Newport Bay, Newport Boulevard Bridge in Orange County (44%).

California Water Quality Trend 2009–20131

The bar chart below illustrates the general trend of beach water quality exceedance rates in California over the past five years. Note that only samples from a common set of beaches monitored each year from 2009 to 2013 are included in the bar chart. Percent exceedance rates in 2009-2012 are based on the national single-sample maximum standard for designated beach areas of 104 enterococcus bacteria cfu/100 ml water that was in place during those years. For comparison purposes, exceedance rates for 2013 are shown based on the historical national standard of 104 enterococcus bacteria cfu/100 ml water as well as the EPA's new Beach Action Value of 60 enterococcus bacteria cfu/100 ml water.

Percent of Samples Exceeding Daily Bacterial Maximum for Beaches Reported 2009-2013

    • % exceedance of national standard in place 2009-2012
    • % exceedance of national BAV safety threshold

    * Please note exceedance rates for 2013 are shown based on the new BAV safety threshold and the historical national standard for comparison purposes. Additionally, only samples from a common set of beaches monitored each year from 2009-2013 are included in the bar chart.

    California 2013 Monitoring Results

    Total Samples
    % of samples exceeding
      NOTE: Data and state-specific information for this summary were collected from the U.S. EPA, direct conversations with beach managers in the state, state grant reports to the EPA for BEACH Act funding, and the state water quality website. The information in this state summary reflects current data as of June 2, 2014.
    1. If the 2013 percent exceedance values in this summary don’t match, why not? The value at the top of the page reflects the proportion of samples exceeding the Beach Action Value (BAV) for designated beach areas. Additionally, only samples from a common set of beaches monitored each year from 2009 to 2013 are included in the bar chart. Because some beaches were not monitored in each of those years, the percent exceedance for this subset of beaches may not have the same value as the percent exceedance for all of the beaches monitored in 2013. For historical reasons, the percent exceedance values shown here are based on the national single-sample daily maximum standard that was in place from 2009 to 2012. In assessing 2013 beach water quality, this analysis is based on EPA’s new BAV of 60 cfu/100ml enterococcus for marine beaches and 190 cfu/100 ml E. coli for Great Lakes beaches, in order to best protect beachgoers from water quality health risks.


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