As summer approaches, water-testing programs for Santa Barbara’s famed beaches are feeling the state’s financial strains.

According to the Dept. of Environmental Heath Services, due to the current economic climate in California – which has necessitated fiscal budget cuts in nearly every civil sector – money simply isn’t flowing into water-testing programs that support state beaches. A few weeks ago, testing at various beaches for numerous harmful bacteria stopped.

However, even with budgetary concerns, the department said it will resume testing throughout the summer months to monitor beach safety as millions of visitors flock to California.

David Brummond, Santa Barbara County Supervisor of Environmental Health Services, said that, compared with other government departments in financial straits, water-testing programs simply aren’t a high priority.

“There is just so much money to go around,” Brummond said. “The state prioritizes expenditures and puts money into other programs deemed more important. Back in 1999, the state adopted monitoring and testing programs for several beaches during summer months because they were mandated to do so, but with limited funding, the county had no choice but to stop these important tests.”

With limited testing, however, harmful toxins and other pollutants go undetected and pose serious health risks to the public.

According to Environmental Health Services, local advocacy group Santa Barbara Channelkeeper conducted tests in their private laboratory over the winter months, but summer testing may be in jeopardy due to insufficient funds.

“We did feel, however, it was very important to put it upon ourselves to run test in our own labs and provide the public a very important service,” Brummond said. “We do receive some federal money that will allow us to do continue limited sampling.”

After water samples are analyzed, the test results and other important data are posted on a website in a weekly press release for interested groups and other various media sources.

Microorganisms, called indicator bacteria, are a natural component of the ocean, and they inhabit intestinal tracts of many mammals and birds. Bacteria that are of particular concern with regard to state health standards are enterococcus, fecal coliform, and total colfiorm. Those who choose to swim in potentially contaminated water can experience sinus infections, skin rashes, ear infections and diarrhea.

State-funded bacteria sampling at popular spots such as Carpinteria State Beach, Rincon Point, Goleta Beach, Sands Beach and Hammonds Beach will no longer be available to the public, but Channelkeeper will continue to collect samples and provide results for public viewing over their Web site.

The test results are important in times of storms, and the public is cautioned to stay away from the water a minimum 50 yards when next to a storm drain or creek mouth leading into the ocean. Additionally, swimmers and surfers are advised to avoid activities involving the ocean within 72 hours of a rainfall event, stay out of discolored water and always rinse off thoroughly with soap.