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Beach Scores As Across Board
Mark Corcoran | Crest Road

Correction:  In the September print issue the NRDC was incorrectly identified as the "National Resources Defense Council."  NRDC stands for "Natural Resources Defense Council."

Graduation may have been months, years, or decades ago, but it might be time to fret about those pesky grades. Fortunately we’re not talking about how well we did in that political science class on cold war hostilities, we’re talking about how well our beaches stood up to the scrutiny of a couple of non-profit environmental groups.

A few months ago the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Heal the Bay both released their annual report cards grading the water quality of U.S. beaches. And while Del Mar didn’t get selected as valedictorian, we did come away with honors. However, before we revel in the result we’re going to look into who graded us, how they came up with the grade, and how we stack up against our classmates.

The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) is a highly regarded environmental grassroots organization composed of 1.4 million activist members and 350 staffers that are lawyers, scientists, economists, and policy experts. Heal the Bay is a regional organization dedicated to protecting the watersheds and coastal waters of Southern California.

For both organizations, the grades awarded are based on a 100 point scale and they reflect the presence of fecal bacteria in excess of allowable limits. In the case of the NRDC, the allowable limits and precise testing criteria are derived from the Beach Action Value (BAV) recently adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) while Heal the Bay grading and testing criteria is derived from the California Beach Water Quality Standards published by the California State Water Resources Control Board. Heal the Bay issues grades both summer and winter, dry-weather as well wet weather for most sites with their methodology changing slightly for dry and wet weather conditions while the NRDC issues a single grade for each beach.

Nationwide, the NRDC found that 10% of all monitored beaches exceeded the BAV in 2013 and that of the 30 states included in the NRDC’s report card, Delaware had the fewest instances of detected fecal bacteria exceeding water quality standards with 3% while Ohio had the most at 35%. In 11th place, with 9% of all water samples exceeding BAV standards, California had by far the largest data set of any state with 25,364 beach water samples taken from 501 beaches. Of California beaches, one beach made the NRDC Superstar list, 38th Street in Newport Beach. In 2013, none of the 50 water quality samples exceeded BAV standards.

Within San Diego County several beaches did not have any instances of exceeding BAV standards while the mouth of the Tijuana Estuary in Imperial Beach reported that 24% of the of the 85 water tests exceed the BAV.

There were two Del Mar beaches with results included in the NRDC report, the San Dieguito River Beach at the outlet of the San Dieguito River, and Powerhouse Park at 15th Street. Both beaches received good grades with the San Dieguito River Beach seeing 5% of 92 samples exceeding the BAV and 2% of the 48 samples taken at 15th Street exceeding the BAV. The NRDC also included a separate entry for beach at 12th Street though no water testing results were presented.

Overall, the beaches of San Diego County did very well in both the Heal the Bay winter dry weather and summer dry weather reports with all beaches receiving an A or B during the summer and 98% of the County’s beaches receiving an A or B during the winter. However, wet weather grades were lower with only 78% of the beaches receiving a grade of A or B.

Heal the Bay graded two Del Mar beaches, the San Dieguito River and 15th Street and both received As across the board.



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