Following the arrival of some unwanted visitors, beachgoers may now want to think twice before plunging into any local waters.
According to David Brummond, a supervising environmental health specialist for the Santa Barbara County Environmental Health Services, when last week’s rain flowed through the county’s creeks and storm drains, it also brought with it high levels of bacteria.
“In all of these watersheds, the rain’s running over the ground and picking up whatever’s on the ground and carrying it in the creeks to the ocean,” Brummond said. “All the bacteria that’s in the dirt and on plants, and manure from animals […] the rain water flushes that into the creek and into the ocean.”
Brummond said research has shown that swimmers in waters where the rain has caused high bacteria concentrations have a greater risk to contract sinus, nasal or ear infections and may experience flu-like symptoms.
He also said county officials sampled water from beaches fed by creeks and storm drains last week to determine local bacteria levels. If bacteria levels were too high, the county posted yellow signs warning swimmers of the increased risk of illness near contaminated beaches. One such warning was planted near Coal Oil Point last week to warn those looking to tackle some Sands Beach waves.
Although Coal Oil Point’s sign was removed shortly afterward, the Environmental Health Services Web site still lists Arroyo Burro Beach, Carpinteria State Beach, East Beach at Mission Creek, East Beach at Sycamore Creek, Guadalupe Dune Beach, Haskell’s Beach, Jalama Beach and Surf Beach as areas where the bacteria still poses a threat.
Brummond said that the easiest way to determine water quality is by simply examining its color.
“If the water is discolored, it is best to stay out of it,” Brummond said. “We recommend that [swimmers] shower as soon as possible and stay up current from any creeks discharging into the ocean.”
Despite public warnings, some beachgoers have not stopped enjoying the water. Abe Phillips, a 21-year-old third-year student at Santa Barbara City College, spent Saturday afternoon at Arroyo Burro Beach.
Phillips, who spends his time surfing at the beach, said he is aware of the risks posed by contaminated water.
“It’s such a nice day out, that couldn’t keep me out of the water,” Phillips said.
The county will take new samples to reevaluate the bacteria levels. Based on past history and the absence of rain in the forecast, Brummond said he anticipates that the water quality will improve over the coming weeks.