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O.C. beaches earn higher grades than state average

Region garners A and B grades for summer and year-round dry season, though ratings fall during winter and wet weather conditions.

By Kristen SchottPublished: May 26, 2010 02:59 PM

Courtesy of Fotolia
Orange County’s beaches earned a higher grade this year than the state average for their water quality during the summer months and for year-round dry weather conditions, according to a study by Heal the Bay.

The 20th annual Beach Report Card looks at 326 beaches along the California coast and issues grades on an A to F scale based on health risks. The study analyzes water quality during four time periods: summer dry season, which runs from April through October; winter dry weather, from November through March; year-round dry weather and year-round wet weather.

Nearly 100 percent of the 78 local beaches monitored received an A or B grade during the summer period, and 97 percent garnered the same ratings for year-round dry weather. The ratings are among the "best on record," according to the report.

Statewide, 90 percent of California's beaches garnered A and B ratings for dry weather.

Among O.C.'s beaches that made Heal the Bay's Dry Weather Honor Roll: Crystal Cove; Newport Bay, Newport Dunes – middle; 9th St. 1000 Steps Beach; and Ocean Institute Beach. The list recognizes beaches that scored an A+ for year-round dry weather.

However, local beaches didn’t fare as well during the winter dry weather season and year-round wet conditions.

About 83 percent of beaches garnered A or B grades for winter dry weather water quality. Seal Beach at 1st St., Sapphire Avenue Beach in Newport Bay, and "the entire stretch of coast from Doheny Beach south to Poche Creek exhibited poor dry weather water quality during the winter months," according to Heal the Bay.

Wet weather water quality at local beaches was worse than the state average and L.A.'s for the first time since 2004-2005, according to the report. A meager 42 percent of monitored O.C. beaches received A or B grades, down from 48 percent in the prior period.

But, the report noted that this is "not surprising after near normal rainfall finally returned to Southern California this past winter."

In addition, San Clemente's Poche Beach, which received F ratings in all categories, has made Heal the Bay's Top 10 Beach Bummer list for the third year in a row. The location came in at No. 4. Five L.A. County beaches made the list, including Avalon Harbor Beach on Catalina Island, which ranked No. 1.

Orange County's beaches are vital to the local economy, driving tourism in the summer months, and boosting revenue to the cities along the 42-mile stretch of coast. However, recent cuts to state funding for local monitoring efforts could negatively impact the region's coasts.

In light of that, the region has begun to take steps to make the most of available funds for protecting the beaches. Monitoring efforts have been eliminated at areas that are "redundant or overlapping" and typically clean in order to be able to watch more problematic locations. Some beaches in the Huntington or Dana Point Harbor areas, including the typically poor-performing Baby Beach, for example, were cut during the rainy season.

Heal the Bay relies on information from the South Orange County Wastewater Authority; the County of Orange Environmental Health Division; and the Orange County Sanitation District for local stats.

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