The water around the Santa Monica Pier earned F grades year round on Heal the Bay’s 2015-16 Report Card released Thursday, landing it on the environmental non-profit group’s “Beach Bummer” list for the third year in a row.
Swimmers who plan to brave the cool weather expected over the Memorial Day weekend should make sure to dive in at least 100 yards from the pier, or the approximate distance between lifeguard stations, Heal the Bay officials said Thursday.
The Pier’s water quality ranked fifth worst in the state — earning failing grades in both wet and dry weather — due to the persistence of bacteria resulting from “moisture and lack of sunlight” and the presence of bird droppings, according to group’s 26th annual Beach Report Card.
“Despite past successes in improving beach water quality, the Santa Monica Pier unfortunately continues to stay on the Beach Bummer list,” officials wrote in the report.
Still, Heal the Bay officials — who post weekly water quality grades on their website healthebay.org every Friday afternoon — encourage beach goers to go into the water, as long as they keep a safe distance from the pier.
“It’s fine to go swimming, and we do have beautiful water,” said Leslie Griffin, the group’s water quality scientist. “Just walk a ways away before you jump in.”
This year, the Santa Monica pier once again earned failing grades year round after having made major strides in curbing dry weather runoff using funding from local Measure V, which voters in Santa Monica approved in 2006.
In 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, water quality around the iconic structure earned A grades during the dry weather between from April to October, although it continued earning F grades during wet weather.
The top grades came after the City implemented an urban runoff treatment program in 2009 and installed netting the following year to prevent birds from nesting underneath the Pier and adding fecal bacteria to the water.
While the measures helped to immediately improve the water quality after dry weather run-off, the netting has been difficult to maintain underneath the wooden structure, City officials said.
“It’s difficult to put up and maintain the netting,” Dean Kubani, the director of the City’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment, told the Lookout Thursday. “The sun doesn’t go down there, so it can’t kill the bacteria like it does in other parts of the beach.”
The City has explored methods to curb the persistent presence of bacteria, including removing the sand from underneath the pier and spreading it on the beach to expose it to sun and air, but that possible solution proved too costly and inconvenient, Kubani said.
Instead, City officials are counting on the construction of a 1.5-million-gallon cistern underneath the pier parking lot expected to be completed in 2018, he said.
“The big cistern will help reduce runoff from rainstorms,” Kubani said. “We didn’t see a big increase in the number of storms, but the storms we had were bigger than the previous years.”
Water from the tank will be diverted to the nearby Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility (SMURRF) during dry weather periods, when capacity is greater, with overflow directed to the sanitary sewer system.
“Once implemented,” Heal the Bay officials wrote, “the project will treat both dry and wet weather runoff flows, which will greatly reduce the amount of stormwater that enters Santa Monica Bay from city streets and hopefully improve water quality at the pier.”
The cistern will be funded by a Clean Beaches Initiative (CBI) grant given to the City after launching its efforts to improve water quality.
The five other Santa Monica locations monitored by Heal the Bay — the drains at Montana Avenue, Wilshire Boulevard, Pico/Kentor, Ashland Avenue and in front of the restrooms at Strand Street — received A grades during dry summer weather from April to October.
All received A and A+ grades, except for the Pico/Kentor drain, which received a B, during dry winter weather from November to March.
Montana, Wilshire and Strand received C grades during year-round wet weather, while Pico/Kenter and Ashland received an F. The Pier received an F in all three categories.
Once again this year, California’s overall water quality during the summer dry time period was “excellent” with 434 of the 456 locations tested across the state, or 95 percent, earning A or B grades, slightly above the five-year average.
A total of 22 monitoring locations, including the Santa Monica Pier, received
C to F grades.
“This was the fifth year in a row of below average rainfall in Southern California,” Heal the Bay officials said, “and as a result its beaches experienced less urban runoff, which likely led to the improvement of overall grades.”
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