East Beach at Mission Creek is, according to Santa Monica-based environmental group Heal the Bay, a nauseating, rash-inducing eyesore. It is, in a word, a bummer.
On the upside, Arroyo Quemada Beach – adjacent to Tajiguas, the county’s landfill – is absent from Heal the Bay’s list of “Beach Bummers” for the first time in three years. East Beach is the only Santa Barbara shore to make this year’s top 10 unhealthy beaches in Southern California, announced by Heal the Bay on Monday.
James Alamillo, manager of the Heal the Bay Beach Report Card program, credited the cleanliness of beaches – excluding the one earning the failing grade – to hard work by seawater quality specialists.
“There’s been a lot of good work taking care of water quality problems at Jalama, Refugio, East Sycamore and Arroyo Quemada especially,” Alamillo said.
The landfill’s seagull population had largely contributed to Arroyo Quemada’s bacterial contamination, Alamillo said. However, falconry, the ancient art of hunting with a trained falcon, has lessened the seagulls’ noxious presence.
“[Arroyo Quemada] was the number one problem beach for two of the past three years, but Tajiguas implemented [the falconer], and it seems to have helped out the water conditions,” Alamillo said.
Although Heal the Bay began rating the healthiness of Los Angeles beaches in1990, the group broadened its focus to all Southern California beaches in 1999.
The beaches are rated on a scale of A through F. Two hundred and fifty-three of the 289 beaches tested during dry weather received either A or B grades. F-grade beaches showed high bacteria levels, which can cause gastrointestinal illnesses or ear, eye or skin infections.
“The report card just tries to follow what data were monitored and put them in terms as easy to understand as A, B, C, D or F,” Alamillo said. “If a beach has an F during dry weather, there’s something going on that is being exacerbated by [human-generated] actions.”
East Beach was graded F by Heal the Bay, while Arroyo Quemada received a B.
Heal the Bay Executive Director Mark Gold said the amount of rainfall also was responsible for failing grades.
“This was actually the worst wet weather year of the last four years that we’ve had the statewide report card,” Gold said. “The reason why is that the storms that we did have were very high-intensity storms – a lot of rainfall in a very short time.”
Alamillo said certain beaches’ proximity to streams and creeks causes more rain runoff to collect.
“More and more in Southern California, you have year-round flows to beaches. More than likely there’s gonna be some kind of pollution flowing out too – not on a continuous basis but enough to make one wary of swimming near those drains,” he said.
David Drummond, a seawater supervisor at SB Environmental Health Services, said he was pleased Heal the Bay’s report noted Arroyo Quemada’s recovery.
“I’m glad it was taken off the list. … The use of the falconer at Tajiguas seems to be a factor in that beach’s improvement,” he said.
Drummond said although Heal the Bay draws its conclusions from data collected by EHS, he does not endorse them.
“It’s interesting,” he said. “It’s something we look at, but it’s not something we advocate or support. It’s generally a subjective review. [Heal the Bay] tries to balance its results with mathematical data, but it’s still subjective. We just put out the data, and they do their own analysis.”
Other Beach Bummers besides East Beach at Mission Creek include: Pacific Beach Point in San Diego County, Baby Beach in Orange County, Hobie Beach at Channel Islands Harbor in Ventura County, Campbell Cove State Beach in Sonoma County, Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro, Capitola Beach in Santa Cruz County and Surfrider Beach in Malibu.
– The Associated Press contributed to this report.