Heal the Bay’s 18th Annual Beach Report Card provides water quality information to the millions of people who swim, surf or dive in California coastal waters. Essential reading for ocean users, the report card grades more than 375 locations year-round (517 locations in dry weather from April to October) on an A to F scale based on the risk of adverse health effects to beachgoers.

The grades are based on daily and weekly fecal bacteria pollution levels in the surf zone. The program has evolved from an annual review of beaches in Santa Monica Bay to weekly updates of all monitored beaches throughout California. All of this information is available in print, via SMS text response and on Heal the Bay’s Web site.

The 2007-08 Annual Beach Report Card showed the best overall water quality on record. Most California beaches had very good water quality, with 87 percent of locations receiving very-good-to-excellent (A and B) grades for the year during dry weather. Santa Barbara dry weather grades were similar to the statewide average for the first time in three years, most likely because of the historic drought experienced during the winter of 2006-07 in Southern California.

Santa Barbara exhibited the best water quality the county has seen since 2003-04. Water quality this year beat the county’s average for both dry weather time periods as well as for wet weather. 

The County of Santa Barbara Environmental Health Agency monitored 20 locations on a weekly basis throughout the year, from as far upcoast as Guadalupe Dunes (south of the Santa Maria River outside the city of Guadalupe) to as far downcoast as Rincon at Bates Beach. Most samples were collected 25 yards north or south of the mouth of a storm drain or creek.

Summer dry weather water quality in Santa Barbara saw dramatic improvement compared with last year. All 20 monitoring locations received A or B grades for both dry weather time periods, marking one of the cleanest years on record for Santa Barbara County. This is well above the county’s four-year average of 94 percent for year-round dry weather. Santa Barbara’s wet weather water quality was fair, but well above the statewide average, with 13 of 20 locations receiving wet weather grades of A or B.

There were two reported sewage spills in Santa Barbara County that led to beach closures this past year. The first spill, of about 3,000 gallons, resulted in a beach closure of East Beach between Sycamore and Mission Creeks on Jan. 23-25. The second spill, of about 1,000 gallons 4.5 miles upstream of Goleta beach, led to a precautionary closure of the beach for two days starting on March 10.

The county with the worst water quality was Los Angeles County, which exhibited the worst overall water quality in the state. This is mostly because of severe water quality issues at numerous locations in Long Beach. Long Beach did show some improvement at select locations this year, but the majority of locations continue to exceed state health standards regularly.

How does this affect you? Ocean water quality is directly linked to human health via water-contact recreation such as swimming, surfing and diving. A lower grade indicates increased bacteria levels, which increase human health risk. 

To find out if a beach is closed because of contamination, click here for weekly reports on beach water quality monitoring, or locate the signs at beach parking areas that notify the public if water-contact recreation is not recommended.

Click here for more water quality information.