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Santa Monica Pier Is California's Most Polluted Beach

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By Jorge Casuso

June 15, 2023 -- The Santa Monica Pier is the most polluted beach in California, earning straight Fs that landed it on Heal the Bay's notorious Beach Bummer List for the second straight year.

The environmental group's 2022-23 Beach Report Card -- which gauges bacterial levels in more than 700 beaches from Washington to Tijuana -- gave the Pier an F during dry summer weather, dry winter weather and wet weather.

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That tied it with Playa Blanca in Baja California, Mexico, which is "impacted by sewage-contaminated runoff from the Tijuana area," where some places have "nonexistent sewage infrastructure," according to the report.

"Being a perpetual Beach Bummer was the norm for the pier until 2018 when the city of Santa Monica installed a stormwater capture system next to the pier," the report said.

"Unfortunately, it appears that Santa Monica Pier’s water quality woes go beyond polluted runoff."

The Pier's failing grades are primarily due to trash from visitors who flock to the County's most popular beach and to bird feces, which the City has been trying to capture with deteriorating netting it is in the process of replacing.

The City is also "installing a trash removal device in the large storm drain south of the pier at Pico Boulevard, which could help reduce bacteria levels around the pier."

The water around the large Pico-Kenter storm drain received an A grade in dry summer weather but flunked in winter dry weather and in wet weather, according to the report.

Water quality is expected to improve after "the City recently completed a large stormwater capture project that will keep polluted water from entering the ocean and increase local water resilience," the report said.

Other stretches of Santa Monica Beach earned mixed grades:

  • Montana Avenue got an A+ in dry summer weather and a B in wet weather,

  • Strand Street received an A+ in summer dry weather and a D in wet weather,

  • Ocean Park Beach at the Ashland Avenue storm drain received A grades in dry summer and winter weather and an F in wet weather,

  • While Wilshire Boulevard got an A in summer dry weather and an F in dry weather.

Grades across California's coastal counties fell this winter as 19 major storm events swept through from October to March, dropping 50 percent more rainfall than the 10-year average, the report said.

The rainfall had "multiple negative impacts on water quality," since "rain washes pollutants, including bacteria, into the ocean, resulting in an overall decline in Wet Weather Grades."

"Additionally, an alarming 45 million gallons of sewage were spilled into the ocean and coastal waterways."

Heal the Bay's grades are based on "concentrations of fecal indicator bacteria measured at ocean beaches" that "indicate the presence of pathogen-containing fecal matter."

Organizations such as Heal the Bay and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency "are most concerned about fecal pollution" because it "poses an acute health risk, meaning one exposure can make someone sick," Heal the Bay officials said.

After the Pier and Playa Blanca, the most polluted beaches were Tijuana River Mouth in San Diego County, which discharges tens of millions of gallons of sewage into the ocean every year, mostly from the City of Tijuana.

Marina del Rey Mother’s Beach -- which is "enclosed within Marina del Rey so there is little wave action and water circulation" -- was among the five most polluted beaches, landing it on the Beach Bummer List once again.

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