SWIMMING IN OUR OWN SEWAGE

We may think of San Diego County’s beaches as five-star attractions. But an environmental group says the water quality at many of our beaches get lower ratings. Part of the problem is the lack of testing.

The Natural Resources Defense Council tracks beach closings, advisories and water quality for more than 6,000 beaches across the country.

“This is the fourth year in a row that we’ve seen more than 20,000 closing advisory days across the country,” says Noah Garrison, an attorney with the NRDC’s water program in Los Angeles. “And what that shows us is that problems with beach water pollution are simply not going away.”

He says many of us are swimming in our own sewage as runoff flows through storm drains to the ocean.

“The stormwater source essentially takes rainwater or water that comes from discharges from construction and industrial sites or even from people’s sprinklers as they over water their lawns,” Garrison says. “And that runoff flows into the streets and into gutters and storm drains picking up animal waste, trash and toxic pollutants before it flows out to receiving waters, the beach or lakes.”

Sewage spills are another source of contamination.

Garrison says there were 460 beach closure advisories in San Diego County last year.

“That was affected by the closing of sampling programs or the reduction in monitoring programs and also by drought conditions which meant there was less rainfall,” Garrison says.

He says several beaches had higher levels of bacteria and other pollutants last year than in 2007.

“The Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge is a consistent violator, upwards of 20 percent annually of the samples exceed water quality or public health standards. Also there was a number of sewage releases at Imperial Beach last year. So that’s a persistent issue.”

He also says Shelter Island at the San Diego Bay is another area where water quality was unhealthful last year.

NRDC’s report also provides a five-star rating guide for 200 of the nation’s most popular beaches.

The rating is based on indicators of beachwater quality, monitoring frequency and public notification of contamination.

No beaches in San Diego County received five stars.

But three received four stars including Pacific Beach at Grand Avenue and Oceanside municipal beach.

Garrison says funding for beach water testing is critical to let people know which areas are safe or not for swimming.