Malibu Pier a ‘Beach Bummer’ for first time

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This graphic from the 2013 Heal the Bay Beach Report Card shows the water quality grades for Malibu beaches from summer 2012 against the summer before. One year after four beaches made its list of worst beaches, only Malibu Pier made the list this year, possibly due to dry weather.

The beach at the Malibu Pier failed to make the grade this year, as environmental group Heal the Bay last week named it number five on its list of California’s “Beach Bummers” in its 23rd Annual Beach Report Card.

The pier was the only site in Malibu to be deemed a bummer, improving on Malibu’s showing last year when four beaches— Marie Canyon, Solstice Canyon, Escondido State Beach and Surfrider Beach—made the Heal the Bay’s annual list of most polluted beaches in California.

The popular surf and sun spot received an “F” grade during dry summer weather, “D” during dry winter weather and “C” during wet year-round weather. The results were the culmination of monitoring conducted from April- October 2012 (summer dry), and the winter dry season (November 2012-March 2013).

But researchers seem at a loss to explain the high levels of pollution at the pier.

“After several site visits by Heal the Bay, no obvious pollution sources were identified on or near the pier,” the study stated. “Bacterial exceedances at this location appear to be seasonal. Heal the Bay plans to work with local agencies to monitor and implement source tracking at this location if the high bacteria levels return this summer.”

City officials are equally puzzled as to what the source could be.

“There’s so many potential sources when it comes to bacteria, a lot of natural sources,” said Jennifer Brown, the city’s senior environmental programs coordinator. “Kelp on the beach is a source more and more scientific papers have been identifying for pollution, we know that.”

Heal the Bay Director Kirsten James said her organization has already reached out to the county and the City of Malibu to work on pinpointing the pier’s pollution source, with Brown and others in the city willing to work on improving the pier’s water quality.

Surfrider Beach, located directly north of the pier, improved on its grades this year, earning a “B” during the summer, but an “F” in the winter and during the year-round wet season. James said that although the pier’s testing site is just 50 yards east of Surfrider Beach, testing sites can easily reflect vastly different results.

“What we find is water quality is very site-specific and can be very different within a short distance,” James said. “There are quite a few sampling sites in the Malibu area, and so those [the pier and Surfrider] are two distinct Malibu sampling sites.”

According to James, the sampling sites are determined by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Heal the Bay takes the county’s data and compiles it for its annual report card.

Last year, Surfrider received an “F” grade during the summer, but bounced back this year with a “B” during the summer. Surfrider still, however, garnered “F”s in the dry winter and yearround wet seasons.

Malibu’s other beach bummers from last year—Marie Canyon, Solstice Canyon and Escondido State Beach—made notable improvements. Marie Canyon and Solstice both registered “B” summer grades, while Escondido bumped up to a “C.”

When asked what could have caused the changes in the most recent report card, James noted that the across-the-board improvements at Malibu beaches are likely due to drier weather last year.

“This is the second year of an extremely dry period, and so as a result we are likely seeing more “A” and “B” grades because of that dry weather,” she said. “With urban runoff being the number one source of pollution, you tend to see higher levels of it when there’s more wet weather. These last few dry seasons have decreased that.”

Leo Carrillo State Beach in Malibu made the report card’s “Honor Roll,” pulling out an “A+” year-round grade from Heal the Bay. Zuma Beach also earned an “A+” across the board. Broad Beach, Nicholas Beach and El Matador earned “A+’s” and “A’s” throughout the year.

For the fourth time in the last five years, Avalon Beach on Catalina Island was ranked the top “Beach Bummer.”

To view the full report, visit healthebay.org.