North Coast beaches get ‘A’ grade for water quality in annual Heal the Bay report

Beach Report Card

Click here to view the full report.

Surfers, divers and hardy swimmers who venture into the Sonoma Coast’s chilly waters can do so knowing it received straight A’s on the latest grading by a water watchdog organization.

Seven beaches got top marks, based on low levels of bacteria in the surf zone, in Heal the Bay’s 26th annual Beach Report Card issued Thursday by the Santa Monica-based environmental advocacy nonprofit.

California beaches had a stellar year, the report said, with 434 out of 456 beaches - 95 percent - receiving A or B grades during the summer period from April through October 2015, a rate 1 percent higher than the five-year average.

Caryl Hart, Sonoma County’s regional parks director, said the coast’s clean bill of health is due in large part to preservation of open space, especially in coastal watersheds. Curbing coastal development contributes to “clean beaches, healthy ecosystems and straight A’s for water quality,” she said.

Three of the seven beaches monitored for bacteria levels are in county parks: Gualala, Stillwater Cove and Doran. Three others are in state parks: Goat Rock, Salmon Creek and Campbell Cove.

Black Point Beach, adjacent to the privately owned Sea Ranch subdivision, is accessible by public trails.

The seven sites got A’s for both the summer dry season and year-round wet weather from April 2015 through March 2016.

Wet weather typically degrades ocean water quality because storm drain runoff can be contaminated with motor oil, animal and yard waste, pesticides and trash, raising bacteria levels far above state health standards.

More rain in the past year had a slight impact on wet weather water quality, with 57 percent of sites receiving A or B grades statewide compared to last year’s near all-time high of 69 percent, the report said.

“We’re really fortunate to live in an area where our beaches are clean,” said Michele Luna, executive director of Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, a Guerneville-based nonprofit that supports Russian River-area state parks.

The report card is “great news for us and the public,” she said.

Six of the seven beaches earned an A-plus, meaning no water samples exceeded state standards for bacteria concentration.

Campbell Cove, which got an A, exceeded state standards five times during the summer period last year. The beach spans the shoreline just inside Bodega Harbor.

Luna said her organization monitors reports for Campbell Cove because it is frequently visited by school groups.

Weekly ocean water quality test results are available online through the county’s Department of Health Services.

Sonoma County has 64 miles of coastal beaches, a small segment of the Golden State’s famous sands, commemorated in pop music and movies dating back more than half a century.

Beaches also have economic heft, generating more than $18 billion from tourism and recreation activity for the state’s economy in 2013, including nearly $197 million in Sonoma County, according to the National Ocean Economics Program at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

The beach report noted that there were no Sonoma County sewage spills that resulted in beach closures in the past year, but there were five spills that sent about 200,000 gallons of sewage into a body of water, such as a river, creek, slough or bay, that can discharge into the ocean. Four of the spills prompted health warnings, the report said.

Six beaches in Mendocino County also received straight A’s for the summer dry season: MacKerricher State Park at Virgin Creek; Pudding Creek Beach and Hare Creek Beach, both at Fort Bragg; Caspar Beach; Big River Beach at Mendocino; and Van Damme State Park at Little River.

Heal the Bay said its report “provides essential water quality information” to the millions of people who recreate in coastal waters. It uses data from routine water quality monitoring of beaches conducted by local health agencies and those with discharge permits.

The report does not measure trash or toxins found at beaches, but rather the bacteria levels in the surf zone.

Health risks from exposure to bacterial pollution include stomach ailments, eye and ear infections, upper respiratory infections and full body rashes, the report said.

It also named 10 sites as “beach bummers” for poor summertime water quality. They were: Cowell Beach at the Santa Cruz Wharf; Clam Beach in Humboldt County; Shoreline Beach Park, San Diego County; Monarch Beach, Orange County; Santa Monica Pier; Mother’s Beach, Marina Del Rey; Redondo Municipal Pier; Sunnydale Cove at Candlestick Point, San Francisco; Pillar Point, Half Moon Bay; and Pismo Beach Pier.

Beach Report Card

Click here to view the full report.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette